Finishing NaNoWriMo – What I learned

So I won NaNoWriMo. I did my 50.000 words and a little extra in just 29 days. And you know what? It feels great. That being said, the feeling’s a bit tainted.

I set out planning on finishing the story I’d loosely plotted out within the the 30 days, which required me to go beyond the official goal of 50.000 words, ending closer at something like 60.000 or maybe more. My unofficial was to write at least 2.000 words a day. Well, neither of that happened.

I also set out hoping I’d end up writing something that could be made publishable with a few rounds of editing. At least something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to self-publish. That didn’t exactly happen either.

So I didn’t reach my own word count goal, I didn’t finish my story within the month, and what I ended up writing, well, let’s just say nobody but is ever going to read through that drivel. So why am I still quite happy with how the month transpired?

I created ambitious goals for myself, and even though I failed at reaching them, the process of trying to reach them made me push myself further than I’ve previously done. And I learned a lot from that.

So what did I learn during my month of pounding mindlessly on the keyboard?

Well, first of all I realized that not only do I need some sort of outline to do some decent writing, but the longer the story the more details I need to keep my overview intact.

Secondly, I really need to develop my characters at least somewhat beforehand. I’ve always set out discovery writing my characters, and it has worked all right for some of my short stories. But for a longer piece it really shows that I don’t really know my characters. I’m almost at the end of the story as of writing this post, and my two protagonists still don’t have much personality. This has also resulted in my story being more of a cluster of scenes than an actual story. The plot progression is there, but there isn’t really enough character motivation and development to call it a coherent story.

Thirdly (I kind of knew this already, but it’s not a bad thing getting a reminder once in a while), I need to add layers of description. I usually write short, short stories, meaning stories with very little setting description. Novels/Novellas are different beasts, and the setting really needs to be brought alive. So I need to show the setting in more detail, which, just as for the characters, means I need to know my setting better before starting to write. My scenes don’t exactly suffer from white-room syndrome — there are some descriptions — but the setting feels bland and non-distinct, because I didn’t know exactly where I wanted each scene to take place before I started jotting down the words.

Fourthly, my sentence level writing still needs some work. When creating a short story, my narrative writing doesn’t seem too jarring, especially after a few rounds of editing. But in a longer piece it really becomes clear that I still need to practice this area a lot. And when the story is +50K words, it’s not really worth trying to fix it unless it’s at least close to a publishing level. I mean, tweaking a 1.000 word story is relatively easy, especially if the you have the motivation of producing something publishable. But if you need to tweak fifty times as much in a story that doesn’t really work to begin with. Well, that’s not going to happen.

So, was it all bad?

Well, no, definitely not. I mean, the story I’m almost done writing is never going to be worth anything, but the process showed me how much I can actually produce if I can just keep my focus for two hours a day. It also showed me that I’ve come a long way the last couple of years when it comes to being tenacious about my writing. Really, three years ago I couldn’t even manage to write 20.000 words in a month even though I was unemployed and basically had all the time I could’ve dreamed of to sit and write.

And even though I don’t really like much about my story, I do have most of the basics down. There’s conflict in all of my scenes, and though the plot isn’t great, there’s some sort of more or less natural progression providing the story with a decent arc.

So, yeah. It could’ve gone better; it could’ve gone worse. But overall I’m pretty happy about what I got out of doing this whole NaNoWriMo thing. Using it as a sort of writing exercise, focusing on practicing being tenacious and writing with concentration really did work very well, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep it up and use it in my future writing.

If any of you want to share your NaNoWriMo experiences, you’re more than welcome to do so in the comments.

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