Sunday, December 4, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Postmortem

I meant for this blog post to be a postmortem on this year's National Novel Writing Month, but I can't do it properly, because I'm not done yet.

Oh, I finished, despite my earlier fear mongering: I reached 50,000 words two days before the deadline, and I'm quite pleased with what I've written so far. But at 50,000 words, my main characters are all lost in a forest, being held captive by gypsies, and I've got to get them to Dracula's castle and put a stake in the fellow's heart before I can call my first draft done. I figure that should take another 20,000 to 30,000 words, and that's a rough estimate.

That's the thing about NaNoWriMo: 50,000 words is usually considered a novella, something Chris Baty himself admits, though he doesn't like to dwell on it. A full novel usually comes in at between 60,000 words for something short to 100,000 words for a fairly hefty book. So at my current pace, I should be done sometime in the middle of this month.

Good advice from Gav Thorpe, who should know.

"Done" being a relative term, of course. Even when I finish the first draft, I'll have, oh, maybe a year editing the thing before I get something publishable, and at that point I'll probably still be unhappy with it. But God willing, I'll be okay with sending the manuscript out to a few publishers (or agents) and seeing if I get any bites.

So what have I learned this year? First of all, I've learned that I'm capable of writing 5,000 words a day if I push myself. 5,000 freaking words! Par for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words per day. That I can write 5,000 words in one day (and more than once) is fairly surprising, at least to me, and definitely pleasing.

I learned that if you aren't writing with an outline, you can still get some of the benefits by jotting down notes for the next two or three chapters you're going to be working on. It doesn't let you jump from location to location at will, but it does mean you have a pretty good idea where you're going in the next few days, which does a lot to keep writer's block from setting in.

I also learned that you don't always make the right call when you're writing by the seat of your pants, but you don't need to let that stop you. A few chapters ago I wrote one of my characters, a werewolf, out of the plot for basically the remainder of the book. Didn't think I'd need him! Imagine my surprise when the gypsies that turned him into a werewolf showed up four chapters later. I had to make a note to revise the previous three chapters to keep the hairy bastard in play, and then kept writing as if he'd been there all along. (Maybe I'll need a year and a half of editing.)

And I learned that NaNoWriMo really does help you improve as an author, as long as you stick with it. My first NaNoNovel was never finished. My second reached 50,000 words, but it was a structural and temporal mess and ended up in my trunk. My third and fourth books were also finished, but both of those required me to use a lot of summarizing to fill in gaps I never wrote, and neither look to see print anytime soon.

This will be my fifth NaNoNovel, and all signs point to me having a complete first draft of it by the end of the month, and hopefully a fully revised draft by the end of 2012. It should have well-rounded characters, and a plot that moves from start to finish in one solid (if slightly squiggly) line. And it should be thick enough to kill a small animal with if dropped with enough force.

Not that I would ever condone that.

Finally, to all those who participated in NaNoWriMo this year, I have one final lesson I've learned, and this is it:

Keep writing.

Write every damn day. Write through December. Write through 2012. Write through 2020. If you don't want to keep writing your NaNoNovel, write something else; but keep writing. If you can't make 5,000 words, 2,000 words, 1,667 words, 1,000 words a day, don't sweat it; but keep writing.

As long as you keep writing, you can keep getting better. As long as you keep writing, you're not giving up on anything, even if you set your manuscript on fire and dance around it. As long as you keep writing, you might just churn out the Next Great American Novel (publishable or not).

Writers write. And you're not going to get worse with practice.

And one last thing. If you did participate in NaNoWriMo, whether you won it or not: Congratulations. You've done good. If you haven't celebrated yet, crack open the champagne or other beverage of your choice and party. You've earned it.

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