Five Things I Learned From Nanowrimo


In my last post, I announced with triumph my completion of Nanowrimo 2012:  I wrote a 50,000-word draft of a novel in the month of November.  A different story than Cheer: A Novel, it’s about a forty-something woman in San Francisco (but, I swear, it’s not autobiographical!).  Here are five things I learned from the experience:

1.  A first draft should be all forward motion.  Revising and editing concurrent with writing can negatively impact a writer’s self-esteem and progress and for that reason they’re forbidden in Nanowrimo.  My draft is also littered with “TK”‘s, the old journalism notation for “to come.”  That is, rather than stopping, leaving my draft and opening an Internet search window to look up, say, a street name in Bernal Heights or which terminal United flies into at SFO, I wrote “TK.”  Doing that enabled me to continue moving forward with the  essential elements of the story, knowing that I would take the time to fill in the inessential details later.  For me, revising and editing are way more fun than figuring out the intricacies and complexities of a first draft.  And thanks to Nanowrimo, I’ve now got something to work with.

2.  Submersion generates ideas.  A first draft usually takes me months and months — a paragraph here, a chapter there.  But with Nanowrimo, the story was constantly with me.  As a result, I found myself coming up with plot twists and new characters much more easily — in the shower, right before bed, while driving.

3.  Scrivener is a great novel-writing tool.  I downloaded the free trial version of this excellent software and purchased it by the end of Nanowrimo (with a 50 percent off coupon for having “won” Nanowrimo).  I didn’t even use all of the cool features of this software, yet its most basic utilities make managing huge chunks of text easier.  As I spend the next few months revising, I predict that Scrivener will become one of those “how did I ever live without” items in my writer’s toolbox. (Now, if they’d only release an iPad version…)

4.  Community helps.  The Nanowrimo website features an active forums section with groups related to everything from age to location to genre.  I visited it often not only for inspiration and commiseration (Nanowrimo is hard!) but also for information.  For example, one of my characters is a grandmother who immigrated from Germany and I needed some words/phrases/expressions that a German grandmother might utter.  I sought out suggestions on a reference forum and received great ideas.

5.  Tushy in chair.  Based on my own schedule (accounting for several days in November, like Thanksgiving, when I knew I wouldn’t be able to write), I determined that I had to bang out 2,100 words a day to complete Nanowrimo.  Many times, I didn’t feel like writing or, more frequently, I just didn’t know what should happen next in the story.  Had I not been under that daily work count pressure, I might have let my fatigue or my plot uncertainty steer me away from my desk.  But I listened to the wise advice of the brilliant Anne Lamott and just planted my tushy in the chair every day.  Eventually, the story came.

Since Nanowrimo ended, I’ve taken a brief break from the story.  Next week, hopefully with fresh eyes, I’ll begin the revising process, which I expect will last several months.  But thanks to Nanowrimo, I’ve got the hardest part behind me.

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