Things I’ve Learned During NaNoWriMo

I’ve crossed the halfway point, both of the month and of the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word count. The end is on the horizon, but I can’t get too cocky. I still have another 14,000 words to write. Keeping that in mind, I have to pull out all the stops and use some of the tricks I’ve learned so far while partaking in this literary challenge.

My friend Mary introduced me to a “secret” bar the other night, where we hid for a few hours, wrote, and drank beer. Writing at a bar makes me feel like Raymond Carver.

1.) Thank God for Outlines

If I hadn’t thought about this project back in July and started outlining it, I never would have been able to do this. Sitting down to write a novel is a daunting task (duh). This is why it is important to keep notes, plan, and stay organized. Since I had four months to plan for this, I thought of exactly the plot points I wanted to hit in the story. Since the action takes place over eight months, I created a month-by-month outline of the story. I knew that for the month of June, these five things needed to happen. In July, these six things needed to happen. And on and on. Having a reference point made the process simpler because it gave me a way to break the larger story down into smaller pieces. “Today, I need to write this scene and tomorrow I’ll write this scene” etc.

2.) Use the Buddy System

My friends Mary and Joaquin joined me for NaNoWriMo. I’ve had the pleasure of writing with both of them this month. While I have spent most of this month writing alone, it has been helpful to write with someone else, especially if you can use them as a sounding board for your ideas. One night as Mary and I wrote together, I mentioned a characteristic about one of my characters and she asked me if that made sense, which was a very honest (and needed) response. I realized right away that it did not and changed it. It was a small detail, but one of those things I couldn’t see on my own. When writing, especially a big project and especially in a time crunch, you get so close to the story that it’s hard to pull back, which means you can gloss over mistakes because you can’t see them or don’t want to admit they are there. Writing partners (or teachers or editors or friends) are good to have for this reason; they aren’t close to the story so they can point out the mistakes you don’t want to.

3.) Don’t be Afraid to Try

When writing with Joaquin, I asked him if I should write the story in order or if I should skip around to different scenes. With short stories, I write erratically, wherever in the story’s chronology I feel so inclined because I know I can fill in holes later. That’s a lot easier with a short story. If you do that too much with a bigger project, it might be harder to go back and fill in the blanks. But Joaquin advised that for the sake of NaNoWriMo’s word count, I should write the scenes I want to write so that I stay motivated. I have stuck mostly with writing in order, but there have definitely been days when I felt myself dragging and skipped ahead to write something more engaging (like a sex scene).

If NaNoWriMo has taught me anything, it really is to not be afraid to try. I’ve been scared of longer works for years now. I know short stories. I understand them and I enjoy writing and reading them. After this experience, I can’t say for sure whether I’ll ever try to write another novel again, but I will say that I tried it once and I’m glad I did. NaNoWriMo has forced me to push myself creatively and to learn some discipline, two things every writer needs.

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