Winning NanoWriMo

I did it. I won NaNoWriMo. It was a fantastic, crazy, all-consuming Herculean task. On one forum where I often lurk, someone started a thread asking people what they’ve learned during NaNoWriMo. Here’s what I learned.

If you’re the kind of writer who likes to spend half an hour crafting one sentence, you’re in for a shock. It’s a completely different experience to just turn on the word taps and let them gush. You have much less control. You have to trust your brain to keep pouring. Later you can sift it, and see what’s valuable, but in the process, you just gush. Yes, you find yourself thinking about the novel a lot between writing sessions, trying to plan it, but once you’re sitting at your laptop, clock ticking, you just have to let it flow.

This kind of pressure can lead you to places you didn’t expect. When forced, characters may reveal things about themselves that you had no idea about. Your ideas, by necessity rushing onto the screen, may forge their own paths, taking you, quite possibly, into a completely different novel. This is incredibly exciting.

About halfway in, I stopped thinking about it as a ‘first draft’ and thought of it instead as a giant free write. I could experiment—try things as they popped into my head.

There were two downsides for me. I accept that I will have to restructure the plot. No problem. What was a problem, under pressure, was maintaining both authorial and character voice. Even if the plot is completely flexible, I like to create vivid, individual characters. I didn’t always. Hence, I have revision notes like: Give Bob a personality. Yeah. That’s a big one.

I’ve started reshaping and revising. I still like the first chapter. It’s certainly the chapter that was the most planned. What I need to do is build from there. Off it goes to the critique group this week.

Here’s my new opening: I’ve been to 179 funerals in three years, and this is what I know: No matter how happy, sad, pretty, plain, corrupt, saintly, or anything else you were in life, at your funeral, you will be a star.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. It’s a wonderful writing challenge.

Am I sad it’s over? Yes. It was motivating knowing that there were thousands of other writers like me, all pushing themselves to achieve the same crazy goal.

An unexpected perk: Now that it’s over, I can’t believe how much free time I have. What on earth did I do before Nano?

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