Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: I won!

As of yesterday evening, I am a winner in 2013 NaNoWriMo. For those not in the know NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, or as other people know it: November.  The idea is that you write 50,000 words in 30 days. It amounts to 1,667 words per day if you break out in even pieces. You "win" if you succeed in reaching the target word count.

For some writers, that's a piece of cake. But not for me. I don't get to write full time. I also teach and mom.  Using the Magic Spreadsheet, I've built a strong daily writing habit over the past year or so, but not a 1,667 word a day habit. My current daily goal (outside NaNoWriMo) is a mere 550 words a day. And those can be hard fought on any given day.

Still, I had an idea for a new novel that had been pulling at me for a few weeks. And I'm crazy. And some of my friends were trying it, so I thought I'd try it, too.

For writers like me, NaNoWriMo is marathon running from whatever chair you sit in to write. Athletic. Inspiring. And, for most of us, not sustainable in regular life. It's something you do once, to show that you can. Or maybe yearly to show you still can. It's not business as usual.

I didn't start out really believing I could do it, but I thought it was worth the effort even if it merely goaded me into writing more than I normally would have in one month's time. But Magic Spreadsheet proved that gamification is a very effective way to get Samantha Dunaway Bryant to do something. I guess I have my father's love for measurable signs of efficiency combined with my mother's love for small treats and prizes. The further I got, the more important it became for me to finish. And finish I did! Yesterday. A whole day early, even!

I found I was ridiculously motivated by the statistics and charts. Even when I was tired and frustrated, I'd push through to keep my bars alone the line. I'd pep talk myself. "You can do it, Dunaway" (I still call myself Dunaway when I'm pep talking myself, though I've been Bryant for more than seven years now). "It's only three hundred more words."

It was entirely different than the way I usually write. It forced me to keep on going even when I felt I didn't know where I was going. It forced me to just highlight areas that I'd have to research for later, or make notes of questions I was going to have to answer.

My novel critique group friends can testify that generally speaking, I keep what I write. Some of my writing friends write pages and pages and pages that don't actually make it into the final project. Not so for me. Usually, by the time something is committed to paper (or Scrivener, in this case), I'm committed, too. I might alter it, expand it, or rewrite it, but it's rare that I just cut something entirely.

I'm curious if that will hold true when I go back to finish (50,000 words did not get me to the end of the story, and I'm still not at all sure how this particular story will end) and edit this one. I'm going to put it away for now. I need to do the rewrite on Going Through the Change, now that it's been through critique group, so that's my December project.  Plus, I've found great benefit in letting something sit for a little while and coming back to it with fresh eyes.

That's something that was lost in this pellmell headlong tumble down novel mountain we call NaNoWriMo: time to let it sit, let it breathe like fine wine. It remains to be seen if what I created is worth drinking.

So, was it worth it? Unequivocally yes. 

50,000 words in one month is an accomplishment I feel proud of. Not letting myself sit and think or research turned the story back on itself, making me let the characters lead and show me what they would do.

Is it my new M.O.? Unequivocally no. 

Especially in the last few thousand words that I wrote, I really felt I was flying blind. If I was respecting the process and not just feeding into the game, I would have stopped and read some more about women's forays into the workforce in the 1930s, instead of floundering around trying to write scenes for my character based on the very sketchy knowledge I have of the time period.

Freda was whispering in my ear that I had a lot to learn about the time period. I didn't even have her wearing the right shoes!

There's a difference between necessary research (lines of work open to women in 1930 in Indianapolis) and letting myself get distracted by interesting research that still matters but only in details that can be added afterwards (what kind of shoes she would wear). NaNoWriMo has helped me learn the boundaries between those, and keep myself focused on the task at hand with iron concentration. That will serve me well in my future projects and help make me a more efficient writer.

Efficiency is going to matter. Unlike my mad scientist in Going Through the Change, I'm not getting any younger. And I still have a lot of stories to tell!

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