10 Things I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo

November, thankfully, ran its course and finally had the common decency to expire like that milk you weren’t sure about anyway, or the tags on your car.  And while the end of the eleventh month obviously means that another jingle bell-ridden, egg-nog inebriated, green-and-red-tinsled Christmas season is upon us, the more immediate point is that NaNoWriMo 2012 is…OVAH! 

So, everybody made it out, right?  We didn’t leave anyone behind?  Because, you know, you never leave someone behind.  Admittedly, I’m not 100% certain why that’s supposed to always be the case, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with John Wayne  and not being a pansy.  And if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that you don’t eff with The Duke, and you do your best to at least not act like a pansy when his name is mentioned.

I’m still working on the not acting like a pansy.  But so far his spirit hasn’t shown up in boots and spurs in an angry rage to slap me around a few times.  Which is a plus.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  NaNoWriMo.  With November over, it’s time for me and the hundreds of thousands of other writers out there to breathe a sigh of relief, reflect on the month past, and possibly celebrate a little for managing to complete NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I am among those reveling in success.  And, lo, there was much rejoicing.

The exciting thing, of course, is that now I have a 50,000+ word manuscript that I get to spend the next months pruning, tending, hacking with a word cleaver, or maybe just bulldozing into something awesome.  But that’s not all I got out of my experience with “30 days and night of literary abandon”.  No no.  Because, even more than that, I managed to learn quite a few things about both myself and writing that will, hopefully, serve me well for years to come.  Like a good bartender.

Here, then, are “10 Things I Learned during NaNoWriMo 2012”

  1. Writing, is, in fact, a muscle – I’d heard this one before plenty of times.  Admittedly, I’ve pretty much dismissed it every time because, well, I have the maturity level of your average 12 year-old and hearing that something is “a muscle” makes me think “love muscle.”  Let’s be honest, now, no one needs to be thinking that, especially me when I’m trying to write.  Anyway the idea here is that just like someone – and by someone I mean you, not me – can spend quality time working your biceps repeatedly in hopes of being able to lift something heavier than 12 ounces of beer, the more you write, the more you can write easily.  That’s the theory, anyway, and I was never sure if I believe it.  As it turns out though, yes, that does appear to be the case.  For the last six of the 18 months during which I chipped away at Famine, 500 words was my daily word goal.  And yes, I got them out and finished the book, but some days those 500 words were like pulling a Hungry-Hungry Hippos game board out of my backside.  This time around, though, I was able to drop the hammer and get it done, without all that hippy moping and dragging my feet.  I suspect that’s largely because I’ve been Just. Do(ing). It. for some time now.
  2. Then again, speed might be born of a lack of awesomeSure, the fact that I was able to churn out something like 2000 words-a-sitting with this new book might be because I’ve more practiced at writing these days.  But more likely this new-found ability to drop the Hammer of Drafting ™ and roar through the Writing Fast Lane like  lunch at Burrito Billy’s working down digestive tract has more to do with quality than practice.  See, when I wrote Famine, I agonized over every sentence of dialog, every chosen verb, every last detail as the words went on the page.  Which was great come revision time, but not so great that it took me a year and a half of excruciating, no-epidurals-for-you, book-birthing labor to get it out.  This new book?  It ain’t perfect.  Seriously.  The plot might be holier than a stinky cheese, the characterization is uneven (at best), the dialog in spots might as well be me talking to myself, and if there’s one place in there where a character “nodded in agreement”, there’s a hundred of them.  This new novel needs much more revision than Famine ever did.  But that’s okay.  I could take a year to revise it and still be ahead of my previous time line.
  3. Thinking about writing is actually harder than the writing – Some days I just didn’t think I had it.  It’d be late in the evening before I got the kids to bed and the assorted chaff of daily life sorted and settled to the point where I could begin writing.  Then I’d notice an Underworld marathon on FX or something and I’d seriously consider pouring six or seven fingers of Jim Beam (what?  Hey, don’t judge me! You don’t know me, man!) and bailing on the day’s word count completely.  But as I’ve said, NaNoWriMo is a harsh mistress, and with November being a scant 30 days, one day of throwing in the towel completely was risky business.  So, instead, I’d sigh to myself and get to work, hoping I could coax out 500 words before crapping out.  Usually, half an hour later, I’d be 1000 words in and just getting to the good part, raring to go.  Sometimes you gotta stop thinking about the task at hand and just work the task at hand and things will kind of take care of themselves.
  4. That said, work is work – Of course, I’d like you to be believe that every part of writing my NaNo novel was rainbows, unicorns, and multi-colored pillows stuffed with Pegasus feathers.  That I simply opened my mouth nightly and the words poured from my gaping turkey-hole like sparkly letters formed of blinding sunshine.  But, um, no.  As much as it’s awesome to have a story go from being nothing but wisps of foggy craziness in your noggin to something real that someone else might actually read, that doesn’t happen without some serious friction against the proverbial grindstone.  Yes, the words might have come rolling out once I got started, but by the time I finished an evening’s drafting – whether by making word count or by falling asleep at the keyboard (yes, it happened) – my brain was sore and tired from the thinks and I was plum tuckered out.  It was absolutely fun and satisfying, but that’s not to suggest it wasn’t work.
  5. Thanksgiving sucks – Normally, I’d never say this.  I loves me some Thanksgiving, hm-mmm.  I mean, come on, a day dedicated to eating and football?  I heart cooking!  I heart food!  I heart football! The whole thing is so perfectly up my alley, how could I possibly bad mouth it!?  Well, look, as a holiday, Thanksgiving was still totally the puppy’s flopsy ears.  But as a writer trying to wrap up NaNo, having a Big Family Holiday a week before deadline was about as convenient as an extra thumb on the bottom of my foot.  I got no writing done on Thanksgiving.  Yep, that’s dreaded word count goose-egg.  I’d hoped to make that up the next day, but no, there was somehow no time to write on Friday either. Just like that, two days of productivity evaporated like coke within 300 yards of Lindsey Lohan. Obviously I did eventually make up for the Lost Days, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d have been able to finish if T-Day had been a week later in the month.
  6. Fellow writers roolz! – The best part of being down in the trenches of NaNoWriMo is that no matter where you are, you’re surrounded by thousands of other writers either sharing the trench-foot with you, or who understand its wet, cold, throbbing discomfort. As your brothers- and sisters-in-arms, they’re happy to give you a word or two of support on the hard days, especially during the notorious Great Dread at the middle of your novel that makes you question whether you’re a huge Liar McLiar-Face pretending to be writer.  Several times throughout the month, I tweeted my NaNo progress and every single time someone, if not several someones (often people I don’t interact with regularly), tweet back with words of urging and support.  It was a thousand kinds of awesome.
  7. I vomited a pile of steaming question marks – I would like to think that the 50,000+ words I dropped last month represent a work of breathtaking wonder.  That, once revised and published – after several publishing houses go toe-to-toe at auction for the privilege to print it – it will become a beloved member of every household, a story told for generations and immortalized in stage, film, graphic adaptation, and a limited edition set of Burger King iced tea glassed.  But let’s be honest.  We’re talking about 50,000 words I generated in less than 30 days, at least some of which I’m not sure I remember writing while I dozed in my recliner.  Could it be a work of true genius that will afford me a place among the pantheon of Great American Authors?  Possibly.  Then again, there might be pages of little more than, “Puddin sleepy, Puddin work, Puddin sleepy, Puddin work, Puddin BURN,” repeated over and over.  It might be great.  It might not be worthy of being used for kitty litter; something even a billy goat would turn it’s nose up at.  Right now, it’s anybody’s guess.
  8. Without an outline, I wouldn’t even have that – Even not knowing what I’ve got on my hands here, what I do know is that I could not have managed putting the plane down on runway 3-0 L if I hadn’t had an outline.  There’s much debate amongst the writerly set regarding the pros and cons of plotting versus pantsing. No, that’s not what it means, perv.  It means, ‘flying by the seat of one’s pants’.  Back in the days when I dreamt of being  a writer artiste, I assumed I would pantster the hell out of it, letting my brain-pudding craft a flawless work of wonder and awe intuitively, as the Muse dictated.  But then I started, you know, actually writing, and realized the Muse is a drunken whore who rarely has anything productive to offer.  The process, for me, at least, is a lot more Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire.  With that realization came the understanding that without a roadmap, I’d never finish any novel.  So it was with Famine, and even more so with this latest novel, because when you only have 30 days, you don’t have time to, in the infamous words of Bugs Bunny, take a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  So, yes, I outlined the thing, and I’m glad a did. Sure, the outline changed a bit once the writing magic started to happen.  But without any guide ropes at all, I’d have never gotten the horses into the barn on schedule.
  9. Sure, I could do this again – “So, Puddin,” you ask, “NaNoWriMo 2012 is In. The. Bag.  Whaddya think?  Will you do it again?”  It was, after all, my first time.  And as first times go, it’s was pretty All Right.  So, sure, why not do it again?  Admittedly, given how I’d written my first novel, I figured it was a fools’ task that I’d never manage in a million Novembers.  But then I got to the actual work of it and found that it was possible, even for me, to set aside that constantly tsk’ing internal editor and just vomit forth a bowl full of hot, wordy gruel.  And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t satisfying as Hell.  You know, like when you finally hurl out in the parking lot of a bar after a night of chucking back Jager shots and buckets of beer.
  10. Then again, I might not – Then again, I’m not sure I prefer this method of drafting a novel.  I won’t know for certain what I think until I finish revisions, let other people – my fabulous beta readers – have a crack at it, and ultimately, close it up, call it good, and move on to the next project.  This method is certainly different than the last method.  But finishing the first draft is only the first step in this method, so I suspect it’ll be some time before I ultimately determine if it resulted in a lesser, equivalent, or even better quality product by comparison.  And that, more than anything else, will dictate whether or not I ever NaNo again.

And thus, my adventures in NaNoWriMo 2012 come to a satisfying, if long-winded close.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast of rambling daily nonsense, 100-word movie reviews, Weekend Debates, etc.  We thank you for you patience.

Oh, and anybody want to beta-read an upper Middle Grade Science Fiction novel once I’ve done with some hefty revision? Hit me up via email or @ me on twitter and let me know!