Things I have learned from doing #NaNoWriMo last year.
1. 50,000 words is a lot
Really a Lot. With a capital L. On day 1, it’s a huge snow-covered mountain of Lot, and you’re standing at the foot of the Trail of Lot wearing shorts, a t-shirt and entirely inappropriate shoes. You’re giddy with excitement and the promise of a story to be told. Along the way you’ll get cold and wet and experience the highs and lows, but when you reach the summit, the view is incredible.
Oh, alright. You probably won’t get cold or wet (unless you’re typing in the rain, which is pretty foolish) but trust me on the views.
2. When you get to 10,000 words, 40k still seems like a lot
It is, obviously. But you’re well on the way. Characters are turning up and doing Stuff, Plot is starting to happen. Giddy early days.
3. 25,000 words is a weird place
You’ve achieved a massive amount. Characters are now doing Stuff to each other in new and interesting ways, Plot is everywhere, Subtext might get a look in if it’s lucky, and Sub-plots bounce around like excited puppies. You’re halfway. Well done, writer!
4. When you get to 40,000 words, 10k seems like hardly anything
Weird, huh? True though. Perspective is a wonderful thing. That moment when you realise you’ve got four thousand words to go and you think ‘ah, I can do that tonight’ – brilliant.
5. Taking a day off writing isn’t the end of the world
So long as you remember to share the missing wordcount over the time remaining and don’t sweat trying to catch up. Unless you’re on day 29, in which case get your butt in the chair and WRITE. Don’t take too many days off though. I did miss a couple near the start and spent ages playing catch-up. Then missed two days near the end which left me 10k to do and four days in which to do it.
6. NaNoWriMo stories don’t come out finished
Or fully polished. Or even slightly polished. There might be the essence of a story in there somewhere, but it will need work. The first draft is suppose to suck, or so I’m told.
Boy, does mine suck.
7. Writing lots of characters is hard
I had entirely too many characters in my NaNo last year, to the point where I remembered late in the day that the two characters I introduced on Day One had entirely failed to make a reappearance. I also found another three characters wandering around from Chapter Two, lost and confused. They all came in quite handy when I needed some people for my psychotic homicidal teenage-angst-wridden AI to bump off in entirely creatively gory ways though.
8. Introducing lots of characters at once is also hard
Yeah. Mine turned up in groups of two and three. Finding an interesting way of introducing three menacing mercenary terrorist pirates in one go is bloody tricky. Go on, you try it.
9. Dialogue is my thing
Seriously, get me two characters in a room or on the other end of a phone/radio, and I’m happy as a pig in muck. I like my characters to talk. A lot. To themselves, if no-one else is around.
10. Planning helps…
I set my NaNo on two spaceships, with action bouncing around and between each. I realised late on that I had characters running around between different locations, but had no idea how those locations hung together. Whilst it was quite nice to be able to have them get from Engineering to the Bridge quickly, it probably contradicted tons of earlier stuff.
11. … but is not essential
It’s quite nice to wing it. Characters had a bit more freedom to do Stuff, and I can go back and re-plan my locations based on what I know now. At the end I threw in an entirely new pair of characters and let them experience the results of what had been happening for the previous 45,000 words. It was fun to see it through a fresh pair of eyes. And finished off the last 5k quite nicely, though opened a whole new set of questions. I reckon that the story needs at least another 25k to finish it off.
12. I need a new keyboard
My super-cheap Microsoft value keyboard is fine for puttering around on the internet and firing off status updates to twitter and G+, but for serious keyboard time, it sucks. Note to self: remember to buy new keyboard.
13. Sleep is for wimps
I find that my best writing time is from about 10pm until about 1am. I’ve done my day, I’ve settled down with a nice cup of really hot tea and I can just go at it. My brain has had the day to work out the kinks from the previous writing session and come up with some new things I wanted to try.
14. Music rocks
Finding the right tunes to write to can be a challenge, but is fun. If you’re writing sci-fi, I can recommend the Portal 2 soundtracks, ‘Music to Test By’. Bonus points as they’re FREE.
Whereas writing exciting action scenes to Kate Bush? Doesn’t really work. Although her new album is utterly glorious and beautiful.
Over the month I also compiled a ‘stuff I really like’ playlist on Spotify which I would put on shuffle and just write to.
15. I need to get a good thesaurus
Lots of what my characters ended up doing was going through airlocks, doorways, corridors, hatchways and interacting with computers, consoles, control panels and so on. Finding new and interesting ways of describing the same thing over and over is a challenge. I suspect in the second draft, a lot of that will find itself on the cutting room floor.
So, fellow writer. What have you learned from NaNoWriMo?