Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is over (and has been for two weeks), I thought I'd reflect on my experience. Never mind what my actual word count was; I assure you it's a pathetically abysmal figure. But even though I was nowhere near completing 50k, I gained a lot of insight about my writing process from the experience. Well, ok, there were some things I already knew, but since I was secretly hoping I would wake up one day and suddenly be able to churn out 50k of beautiful shining prose in no time at all, I had to re-learn some of those things. (Ha.) Here are some things about my writing I either learned or reconfirmed during the challenge:
1. I AM NOT A PANTSER
It's sad that this is even here, because I totally knew I'm a plotter at heart. (This is one of those things that, surprise, didn't magically change overnight.) I'm the type of person who likes to have at least some sort of plan, even if I decide to ditch the entire thing later. Not having a good grasp of the structure of my story made me feel antsy. I had some vague ideas of what was supposed to happen, but not organized or detailed enough that I felt comfortable drafting, which made it hard to move forward with the story. I wrote a lot of beginnings that didn't feel right, and I couldn't fix it because I wasn't sure how I wanted it to go in the first place. So I kind of got stalled and didn't know how to continue. :(
Tip for future Linda: Outline first!
Well, first I have to brainstorm a lot of random stuff, but outlines are great for organizing information so my ideas aren't a giant mess in my brain. I'm trying all sorts of different plotting tricks, from synopsis-writing to note carding to plotting by spreadsheet. It's a lot of fun and I'll let you guys know how those methods work out for me!
2. DON'T LOSE FOCUS
The dumbest thing about the previous point is that I'd originally planned to use NaNoWriMo not to draft a story but to brainstorm for my outline, precisely because I knew I worked better that way. But somewhere along the way I forgot my purpose. Instead, I decided I should be writing the actual story because that felt like what I was supposed to be doing. That's what everyone else was doing! And then I realized I had no outline and started trying to make one up ASAP so I can write the story, even though the whole point of this particular NaNo was supposed to be brainstorming so I can come up with a solid outline later. *facepalm*
Tip for future Linda: Stick to your objective!
I had a personal goal but then got confused, went off track, and started sabotaging my own efforts by trying to skip ahead. Next time I will be clear about what I want to accomplish and not change my plan for silly reasons, like impatience or wanting to be like everyone else or temporary insanity. (I still can't get over my own stupidity.)
3. MOMENTUM IS KEY
At the beginning of August, I wrote every day for a week. I don't think I ever hit my daily quota, but it felt awesome to know that I was actually writing. (Never mind that I was basically writing a ton of crappy beginnings I would never actually use.) I was productive! I felt like a writer! It was amazing! And then... I got sidetracked. Writing was so fun I wanted to skip right over the brainstorming and outlining phases to the drafting phase (see point #1 about my denial of my plotter-ness). Needless to say, it didn't really work out (see point #2), and when I broke my streak I couldn't get myself started again.
Tip for future Linda: Don't stop writing!
I don't think someone has to write every day to be a writer, but I can see why it'd be really helpful when you're starting out. I'm terrible at daily routines despite how much I love the idea of them, but I do want to make writing a bigger part of my life. So I signed up for 750words.com. Right now I mostly write word vomits of whatever's on my mind (lots of rants and raves about recent reads [oh look, alliteration!]) but I'm hoping to transition to fiction [oh look, rhyming!] once I spend September doing what I was supposed to do in August; namely, brainstorming and building an outline. [Sorry about the ridiculous bracketed asides. I don't know what got into me.]
4. DON'T WORRY ABOUT PERFECTION
It is so, so hard to give my inner editor a temporary vacation (I don't really want to kill her; she'll be so useful during revision!). But apparently it actually is possible; just look at my previous paragraph. (Heh.) Anyway, everyone emphasizes how important it is not to worry about quality during a first draft, and while I could kind of see why, I also wonder, "But why not get it right on the first try so you don't have to spend so much time fixing it later?" I suppose I want to strike a balance. I don't want to write complete gibberish for the sake of word count, but I also don't want to get so hung up about quality that I never finish. It's painful to recognize how bad my NaNo writing was, but somehow it still makes me happy that I wrote those few thousand words during the challenge.
Tip for future Linda: Just write — you can fix it later!
I hate producing terribleness. It's annoying and discouraging and excruciating and utterly unavoidable when you're a normal person who hasn't written all that much, like me. (This is in contrast to literary geniuses who've been writing forever. There is a very slight chance that such luminaries may find it possible to avoid producing terribleness, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone.) I need to get it through my head that it's ok, that I need a huge quantity of thoughtful practice (which means no random banging of the keyboard), that everyone has to start somewhere, and that I can revise later. And that I will improve, if I keep at it.
5. SPREADSHEETS ARE AWESOME
This is the part where I reveal my geekiness. I love spreadsheets and graphs and metrics! I would use it to track every little thing in my life if I were disciplined enough to log everything (I'm not, but it doesn't stop me from trying). I still use spreadsheets to track personal finances and books I've read, though I've abandoned many others over the years. (Like the one that cataloged everything in my closet. I wish I hadn't stopped maintaining it; that one was pretty useful.) I made a word count spreadsheet for Camp NaNoWriMo, and even though I didn't do a great job of keeping up with my quota, I still enjoyed tracking my (pitiful) progress and admiring the pretty charts I made.
Tip for future Linda: Motivate yourself with metrics!
I really like how Savannah J. Foley tracks her daily and weekly word counts with a spreadsheet, and I'm totally making myself some spreadsheets for when I get to the drafting phase. It makes it easy to visualize progress, and I will be motivated to beat my goal so my graphs and charts look good. Plus, spreadsheets are fun! :D
Anyway, I might not have won the challenge, but now I have a better idea of what I need to work on in order to write more successfully. No more getting ahead of myself and losing focus and momentum! Easier said than done, of course, but I'm glad to be more aware of my issues and to get back to my general plan/schedule.
I don't think I'll be able to participate in the official NaNoWriMo since I'll be in Europe for half of November (so excited!!), but maybe I'll do a MyNoWriMo like Holly Dodson and challenge myself to writing 50k in October... or not. The thought of it kind of freaks me out. If I do, though, I'll be sure to review the awesome Krispy's Dos and Don'ts of NaNoWriMo — her tips are so funny and helpful!
How about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Are you going to this year? Let me know if you have any tips or resources to share!