This year I decided to give NaNo a shot. I heard about the National Novel Writing Month last year, but being in the middle of a project already and not wanting to lose focus on it, I figured there was always next year.
So this October I wasn't working on much, just tidying up a few old works I eventually want to rewrite, when I remembered it was almost NaNo time. There were a few ideas I'd had kicking around my head for a while, so decided there was no time like the present to get at least one of them out there.
I didn't do much in the way of planning. For a first draft, I find the more planning I do, the harder it is to write. I concentrate on the outline too much and don't give myself enough room for the story to develop. What I did do, was look really deep into my characters.I did a lot of profiling and background stories for them, really fleshed them out before the actual writing started. I'm a firm believer in characters and how they evolve all by themselves. Our characters carry the story, so I figured the more developed the better. If I got stuck, they could help me. I knew the general outline of my story and the direction it was headed, but other than that I was flying by the seat of my pants.
The morning of November 1st I woke with a knot of fear in my belly and a racing mind. I was terrified of starting my computer, to look at my notes and the very worst - getting that first sentence out there. But that last part always terrifies me. The first sentence of any new project is daunting, but once done is done. And if it sucks, hey, that's where rewrites come in.
On November 1st I realised I'd made a mistake in signing up for NaNo. Not because I didn't think I could do it, because I did. If I sat down on any given day and said, right, you've got 30 days to write this bad boy, and you don't even have to finish it in that time limit, just get 50k done and we're golden, then I don't think it would be a problem. What I did have a problem was the fact I had to write to someone else's deadline. Someone else decided it HAD to be November, it HAD to be 30 days started November 1st. And that seriously, seriously freaked me out.
Once I got started I was fine. The ball was rolling, the words were flowing, the characters were making me fall in love with them and thought about them every spare second I got.
I hit 50k earlier than the schedule predicted, 'finishing' NaNo on November 10th. This allowed me breathing time, time to relax and realise it wasn't the Hounds of Hell snapping at my heels, just a website encouraging people to write. The book I was writing wasn't finished, not by NaNo's standards. A part of me is glad I got so much done in so little time, as a dear member of my family took a turn for the worst and after a few weeks we lost her, obviously turning my thoughts to her rather than writing. When things got bad I used my book as a way to distract myself and disappear from the world, for as little time as I could. Today I uploaded my work and got it validated, the final word count of the first draft coming in at 67,813k. There's still a long road until the book is even ready for other eyes to see it; a heck of a lot of editing needs to be done, loose ends tied up and fleshing out to be done.
When I first started, NaNo seemed to be everywhere. My blog feed was overrun of people sharing their past experiences or thoughts about NaNo; Twitter had the hashtag where NaNoers could meet and chat to each other. It almost made me wish I had avoided reading anything about it. Tweeters gave people hints and tips how to expand their novel, encouraged long winded sentences that really only needed a word or two. Bloggers either did the same and encouraged overuse of adverbs just to boost the word count. Others tarnished NaNoers with a hateful brush, calling them hacks and wannabes. Agents slammed NaNo since their query box is always full of half finished and unedited manuscripts come December.
It got me thinking - why? If you're going to do NaNo, surely the win would feel all the sweeter if you actually wrote fifty thousand words you absolutely loved, rather than fifty thousand words of drivel that when you edit, will probably only be half that amount of words?
But then there is the flip side - the people who take NaNo seriously, the people who have writing right down to their soul. The people who after having a good chunk of words start all over again because they know it will work better from another angle.
That's the thing about writing. Whether it be for yourself and no one but you will ever, ever read it, or for future publication, whatever you write, you have to love it. You're going to be spending a long time with this project and you're more likely to keep pruning and polishing it to perfection if you care about it and want to see it at its very best.
Now, I'm not saying my NaNo project is perfect. Far from it, in fact. But I do love it. I haven't added words just for the sake of it, I haven't had characters talking about their problems over and over just to bump the word count. When I'm done editing and rewriting I hope to have at least fifteen thousand more words on top of the 'finished' NaNo total.
Do I regret doing NaNo? Not really. But I'm sort of glad it's over. The best thing I got out of it wasn't being able to call myself a 'Winner', but for thirty days I got to write alongside some of the best and coolest people I've ever known. The road of writing is a long one, but thanks to NaNo it isn't a lonely one. Your friends are right there beside you, cheering you on.
Would I do it again? Now there's a question.