As I posted yesterday, I’m reviving my December tradition (or perhaps, by reviving it from last year, making it a tradition) of updating this blog every day. At this point, I figure I owe a debrief on what I accomplished during National Novel Writing Month in November.

I’ll start with what I did not accomplish: a ‘win’, which is considered to be a 50,000 word manuscript, that might or might not be a completed story. I got to 30,006 (by Scrivener’s count; I suspect the official counter might knock something off of that, but I didn’t try!) I also didn’t get to a complete story. Truthfully, I didn’t get anything like a complete story. I got very spoiled on the features of Scrivener that make it easy to start new sections of a story, so, although the first section (an incident from the childhood of a theoretically major character, who in actuality barely appears in the other 21,000 words of the story) is something like “complete”. After that, I just figured good places to start and kept writing until I got bored or stumped about what to do next and then found another starting point. At times I got to the point where I was clearly stretching a section out just to fill out my word count. (Some clues about this: characters speaking in overly long sentences and not using contractions; blatantly ignoring all those rules about overusing adverbs, and, in a pinch, dialogue being formed by having characters explain my own personal theory of the meaning of particular Bruce Springsteen songs. The last, remarkably, I only resorted to once and it is the very last thing I wrote.)

So. I hear legends about people who think the novel they produce during NaNo is publishable. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that there are people who CAN accomplish that in a month. But for me, I’m not sure that I even produced something that’s finishable. That raises the question of what I accomplished this month, whether it was worthwhile.

Well, yeah. I didn’t learn how to write a novel this past month, but there are some things I did learn:

1) 30,000 words isn’t all that much. Granted, I picked a month that I didn’t have a lot else to do, but writing this many words was not a huge deal. It did not take a huge chunk out of my time. An hour’s uninterrupted time (and more like 2 or 2 1/2 hours using my typical habits of stopping to check Twitter or fiddle with itunes or run/stretch/have a 2-minute dance party, have a snack, et cetera) was all I needed to get a reasonable amount done. It also wasn’t all that much in terms of the ingredients that a novel needs to have. I had my characters more or less in place, they got some interaction done along with some introspection (holy hell are my POV-characters introspective little buggers, some to the exclusion of wanting to do anything else). But I had started with the mindset that by the time I reached 30,000 words, somehow there would be a lot more content than this. In that sense it was dispiriting. But from another viewpoint — if writing these 30,000 words wasn’t such a big deal, then writing another 30,000 (on the magical day when I actually figure out what I want to have happen in this story) will not be an impossible undertaking either.

2) It helps not to quit. This is, of course, bloody obvious except in the sense that I have a major history of giving up on projects when I can’t immediately see to the end of them. In a sense, I kept doing that with NaNo (as I mentioned, there was a lot of ‘following this point to the end, then picking up in another). But this time I didn’t ditch the project. I kept chipping away at the ideas from different angles, and gradually some things started to take shape. The very last day of November, in fact, marked the first occasion (and I have always considered these moments very important in fiction) when a character didn’t want to do the thing I had planned for her to do. It’s tempting to describe these moments in mystical terms (“The character spoke to me!”) but I think what it really means is that the story has a specific enough shape in my head that the decisions I make about her can no longer be arbitrary. I can’t just have her say a line because I think it’s funny, or kiss the boy because that’s what my outline says. These are important moments, but the only way to get to them is to sit down and fill the page.

3) It helps to talk about it. There’s always a risk of talking too much, at the expense of getting any writing done. One of the glorious things about NaNo, though, is that it connects me with other people who are doing (or at least interested in doing) the same thing. Having friends who write, and read, and talk about writing with me, is one of the most important and rewarding things in my life. It saves me from being alone in my room with this weird little hobby and gives me the sense that there are other people in it with me. So thanks to all of you.

Tomorrow: What’s Next?

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