The thing I’m most proud of after successfully finishing NaNoWriMo is that I made no foolish pledge to blog everyday during the month. The first five days I wanted to. It was a good feeling to complete my main course and then finish off with a little blogging dessert. But after day five, the novel filled me up. I got a lot of pleasure knowing that I hadn’t made a stupid public promise to blog the process!
Now, having completed the month in fine form and having had a couple of days to chill, I want to remove the corpse from the vault, cut it open and see what’s inside. I don’t mean to autopsy my novel, for it is not dead; no, it’s a fully-formed, wee babe sleeping quietly in the nursery. I know I’m confusing the metaphor, but hey, it’s all about birth and death, two sides of the same coin and all that. No, I mean to autopsy the month itself.
But first, my Nano medical history. I’ve done Nanowrimo since 2002, and my first year was a blissful gift. I had a novel waiting to come out and come out it did. It was wonderful to write that story at that time. It was wonderful to experience how many words have to be thought up and written down in order to make a novel. It was amazingly wonderful to write that many words in such a short time span (though that novel went on and went up to 135,000 words at its most bloated). I was hooked.
The next five years were good, but not as great. The second year was like pulling teeth. The third year I bit off more than I could chew. Nano four through six, I, uh, I really sank my teeth into— Okay, enough with the mouth cliches! Four through six were the years of the Fevran Trilogy, my first foray into science fiction. I think about those books more and more as time goes by and may go back and attempt to whip them into shape. At the time, however, I didn’t feel confident in my ability to write in that genre, so I needed to learn more before tackling them.
I attempted Nanowrimo in the seventh year when I knew I’d be out of town for half the month and got less than half a novel written. The next year, my eighth, I broke the rules, but finished the novel. That’s a fantasy novel for older children that I completed, but have yet to market. I excused myself from the November melee for 2010 and 2011 because family matters far away kept happening in that month.
Having said all this about November novelling, I have to point out that I was writing and learning my craft during the rest of the months of all those years. But, I focussed on short fiction, as well as editing other people’s work in my Third Person Press role. I missed the speed-writing of Nanowrimo and the challenge of writing a longer piece, though, so this year, I selfishly protected my writing month, determined to write another novel.
And that’s what happened. The month went so well that it reminded me of my first time, back in 2002. That same creative-flow *glow* infused the whole process. But it was also very different because I had something I didn’t have in the beginning: experience. I was aware everyday (and I wrote every single day of the month, something I’ve never done before) that I kind of…knew what I was doing. That’s not to say that I didn’t make wrong turns, hit dead-ends, have a head-on collision or two, litter the landscape with absolute crap and turn on the auto-pilot here and there. I did. But a first draft is always a auto-repair job. Overall, I felt that I had avoided many of my global mistakes of the past. Here are a few of the ways I managed that:
- I thought about the concept for a long, long time and therefore knew it wasn’t an impluse. I wanted to write this
- I planned it ahead of time to the best of my ability, which is not the same thing as knowing exactly what’s going to happen every step of the way
- I knew that organization of information is a huge part of feeling that you have a handle on a writing project this large and got the right software to facilitate this
- I left my emotions outside the office door. For the first time, I had no real angst about a novel. This means not allowing a bad writing day to affect my momentum, trusting myself to have the capacity to figure it out, and being okay with a less than perfect first draft, every step of the way
It was a good month and I’m very grateful to have a new finished first draft snoozing in my novel nursery. I have a lot of work ahead of me to raise that baby and help it grow into a stand-alone adult. But I’m looking forward to that challenge, and I know this because another bit of wisdom rose to the surface from this month.
One day after having finished my words for the day, I was relaxing with an iPad game, feeling pretty darned satisfied with myself, when a sheepish self-truth asserted itself:
I don’t challenge myself hard enough, often enough. I could write like this more of the time, maybe even most of the time. I could be way more productive. I can, and should, do more. It’s not that hard.
I started this post-mortem with kudos for not expecting too much of myself (not trying to blog everyday and write a novel in one month)—ie, knowing my limits—but end with an entirely different message. The lesson is to push beyond self-imposed limits. Writing a novel in a month would have once seemed impossible and it doesn’t anymore. I must challenge myself to do more in order to find out what limits are reasonable and what are only self-protective, ingrained habits keeping me from accomplishing what is possible. Then, when it’s almost time for my actual post-mortem (realizing that I may not get any advance notice), I won’t have nearly so many regrets.