Lessons Learned From NaNoWriMo (in response to Chuck Wendig)

Lessons Learned From NaNoWriMo (in response to Chuck Wendig)

The water was warmer around the dock. lake-425029_1920

It was probably the only shallow part of the lake. The safest part. The part where a few dozen suburban Boy Scouts who have never experienced swimming in a natural body of water before splashed and thrashed and screamed and silently cataloged every moment to be saved for the time when they teach their own children. Against the serene and majestic backdrop of the Maine Wilderness, it was loud, it was chaotic. But, it’s what is supposed to happen in the middle of summer, and you were a pre-teen, and warm weather came at a premium. There was fun to be had.

Your feet ran across sharp, tiny pebbles all the way to the water’s edge. As they broke the surface of the lake, they slid across a frosted layer cake of algae to find themselves floating, while the rest of the body did all the work. This is where everyone splashed and played; an area of no further than 20 feet from the shoreline. It was warm. It was safe.

It was not where you were going today.

Today, you stopped focusing on the kiddie section, and put the rest of the scenery into context, as if you’ve spent the majority of the summer in blissful darkness, and suddenly remembered where you are. Today, you walked all the way to the edge of the dock and noticed that even though it was a warm summer’s day, the nearby mountain range sliced thick atmosphere that was rolling overhead. Undetected. Like sharp shears through Spring wool. Even though it didn’t hit you right away, but even with all the thrashing about in the warm, shallow end, the waters beyond the edge of the dock were fairly still.

This was the day you had to swim out to the platform, the one closer to the middle of the lake, swim three laps around it, and tread water for 10 minutes while trying not to pass out from exhaustion or panic. Which sounded easy enough on paper, but once you fill you lungs with air and dive in, you quickly find a new respect for mountain fed lakes, and just how deep and cold they are. The water is just a few degrees above forming ice crystals. It surrounds every inch of you, steals whatever air is left in your lungs, turns your blood into Hershey’s Syrup, and makes your feet long for the time when tiny rocks tenderized its soles. They wish they could feel something, anything. They need something flat to propel the body that is currently going into shock out of the water. Nothing is found. The body starts flailing, the mind goes into survival mode.

You start to sink.

You forgot how to swim.

The broomstick shoots below the surface. There’s a voice yelling at you to grab on to it.

Someone pulls you in.

Lesson failed.

Lesson learned.

Thirty days, hath September, April, June and November. Which means as of the first draft of this post, it will soon mean “pencils down”.

This is my first year in participating in NaNoWriMo. My approach in doing so was something akin to walking the labyrinthine floors of any given Vegas casino for the first time; Get the lay of the land. Get a feel for where the action is, where to start playing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll figure it out eventually the longer you acclimate yourself to this environment. Find a table, break out your chips, start playing.

I know how to write. I’ve been doing it for years. Just…not professionally. Writing 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days I figured would be challenging, but doable. “I can do this,” I thought to myself back in October when I had a spark of a plot and not much else. “I’m able to crank out about 200 words in 15 minutes. Which means that if I don’t get up to pee, eat, take care of a toddler, refill my coffee, acknowledge any other responsibility in the house, I can average 800 or so words an hour. Which means I can crank out 1667 words in a little over two. I can do this. This is going to be the yard stick by which I measure all future accomplishments.”

I didn’t take into consideration the occasional writer’s block, or the stretches of days where the icy grip of ennui and depression steal the last breath from you. I also didn’t take into consideration that I may have over-inflated myself in my research skills just a touch.

In as much as I’d want to admit to myself that I was prepared, I wasn’t. I just wasn’t. I suck, and that’s it.

Yes, I had notes and source material, but it didn’t matter squat if I kept finding more, and adding to it every day. Yes, I had a frame of reference that I found a little too late where I could craft the story much easier with a lot less headache. But, it doesn’t matter if I didn’t know what I was doing before I started. I mean, I thought I knew, nobody told me how cold and deep the water was.

A wing and a prayer. That’s it. That’s all I had. You see that guy waaaaay in the back of the pack of the Boston Marathon? The one that jogs a quarter mile, then ducks into a bar for a beer and a burger when no one’s watching? The guy whose boobs shake every time he plants his foot? Yeah, that’s me.

I suck, and that’s it.

This post was supposed to be shorter. It was, in fact, supposed to be a reply to a recent post on Chuck Wendig’s blog a few days ago. But, me being me, I thought it would be better to wildly thrash about on my own blog, vent a little in hopes that I can keep a little something going from the previous month while at the same time, answer his questions by not posting an epic tl;dr reply in his comments.af86b-tldr_longcat

Recently, he asked his followers, specifically the ones participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what their individual experiences were, and what they learned from it. This was my first year. I thought that I was better prepared for it, found out otherwise. Here’s my take-away from it…

How’d you do?

On One Hand…

The experience was exactly what I needed to get me out of a writing drought. While forging ahead at breakneck speed with a single spark of inspiration that I carried in my shirt pocket for a couple of days, I was secretly wishing that I would knock this project out of the park on my first time around, become the next J.K. Rowling, become insanely rich and tell every doubter and hater I know that they can all go stuff it.

On The Other Hand…

That moment when you’re scrubbing up in the shower, or you’re driving with the windows rolled down, and suddenly you’re belting out a tune that you haven’t heard in ages, but you forgot most of the words?

“It’s not the things that you do or the thing somethinsomethin doo doo…HOLD THE LINE! Nuhnuhnuhnuuuhnuuhhnuh TIME!…”

Like that. A nasty habit of mine I’d like to break is starting strong on any given project, and then fizzle out after a few pages. It’s not that I’m completely naïve and think that writing a book was a linear process and I could start on page one and not stop until I reach page two hundred and whatever.

Okay…maybe I was a little naïve.

I am easily distracted. And I’m not talking about your usual Jump-On-Facebook-And-Stay-There-For-Hours type of distracted. My level of distraction is hovering somewhere in the clinical range; the type where they have to give it a snappy acronym or a Latin moniker. The type where they have to give me a pretty little bottle filled with pretty little pills, that can pull in some decent coin on the street….

…what was I talking about?…

I start something, find a shiny object to play with for a while, and by the time I return to what I was doing, I had no idea why I started in the first place. This is the type of thing that slows me down, always. Like this post. It was supposed to go up days ago.

The end result being, I didn’t finish my novel. And, I’m okay with that, because above all else NaNo is a learning experience.

What Did You Learn?

Well, I learned that…

  • Planners and Pantsers are connected, even though all evidence leads to the contrary. I believe that all of us that are brave enough in the first place to grapple with this Word Beast for a month, that it’s probably a wise idea to adopt the attitudes of both. Making stuff up as you go along is fun and you’d be amazed at where you can go, but I believe that it can only take you so far before you have to stop and ask for directions. I believe that in order to finish your goal, you would need to have the mind of a Planner, and the soul of a Pantser.
  • However many notes you have, double them. Triple them if you have to. There’s no such thing as too much research.
  • I need to take time out and read more. Even if it’s just a few pages. Not Twitter, Not other blogs. An honest to goodness book. It does the body good.
  • Quiet and solitude are valuable commodities. Music is a good stimulus, but there’s only so much I can take before I get completely distracted and start making new Spotify stations. I must look into stealing myself away to write, which is impossible these days. My boy likes to get into trouble. I’d like a quiet space with blank walls and maybe a few windows, a laptop, access to wi-fi, blank notebooks, note cards, pencils, an area to make coffee, and a door with a lock on it. That’s about it. Distractions are a killer.
  • A proper 3 Act Structure is not necessarily the only way to craft a story, but it’s a sturdy framework, and it’s worked out pretty good for a lot of people so far. It’s a good place to start, don’t discount it, don’t deny it. Use it.
  • Using Scrivener will probably help out a lot. Yeah, it was very confusing at first, but so was Blender, and you figured that out eventually. Bite the bullet, buy a copy, and stick it on the above mentioned laptop.

Where Will You Go From Here?

Me from 2007 would have thrown in the towel weeks ago. I would have drowned in that icy lake of my own ambition, wept at my untimely demise for a few days, and started on something else that was a little less scary. Like, a Top 5 List about neckties or something.

Present Day Me would probably strangle 2007 me. No, we are not giving up. No, we are not wasting any more time writing blog posts that no one reads. No, we are not going to catch up on our Netflix cue. We are going to sit our ass down in front of the monitor, and we are going to finish this bastard.

By the end of the month, I made it to the halfway point; About 26,000 words. Personally, I would like to regard it as a benchmark. Not bad for a first timer, but compared to the people who have done this through the years, I barely showed up. I know I should regard other participant’s progress with little regard, but it’s kind of hard not to take a peek at what others are doing. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was myself (turn off the cheesy music). I know I can do this. When faced with trying to write in a linear fashion, because I thought that’s how you do it for some reason, it slowed me down, it allowed doubt to take over, and stopped me dead in my tracks. Suddenly, getting ready for Thanksgiving was more important.

I will be continuing this. I will probably scrap everything and start over again, but I will be continuing this. NaNoWriMo has taught me self discipline, something that was rather lacking these days. I understand the nature of it now, and even though the usage of the month of November is a good measuring stick, I’m not going to let that hinder me now that we’re in December. I don’t have to use November. I could just as easily use April, June, or September…because all the rest of thirty-one. My novel, such as it is, is a mess. I will be spending however long it takes to get it into a cohesive work, and get it ready to publish. Because it means that much to me. I will finish this.

Present day me isn’t afraid of the water anymore.

Finishyours