November 8, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update #1

by Bryan Johnston in Creativity, Writing0 Comments

Minute Read

Well, here we are. Eight days into my own personal Everest – attempting to write a novel in 30 days. It’s been an adventure so far, and I’ve learned a few things about myself and my process along the way. So, where do we stand?

Total Words Written to Date – 10724 as of 11:28am on November 8. Yay me! To break it down by the numbers, that’s an average of roughly 1530 words per day. NaNoWriMo suggests a daily average of 1667 to hit the target of 50000 by the end of the month, so I’m about 130 words off the mark.

But I have a secret. Come closer. Closer…

I didn’t start until November 2. *Gasp* Yup, it’s true. My enthusiasm was there, but I didn’t actually start writing until the second day. At the rate I am going, though, I will hit the mark on time if I throw in the occasional session where I exceed the daily target. I can do that. Aside from the slow start, I have been hard at work each and every day since then. Working like a bear (see what I did there?).

Here are some of the highlights (and low points):

  1. At 10000+ words already, this is the longest piece of creative fiction I’ve ever written. My love affair with writing goes back a long time, and I’ve written plenty of poetry (perhaps more than I’d care to admit), short stories, and plays, but this is my first crack at writing a long piece of narrative fiction. Trial by fire. The lesson? If you want to be a writer, write.
  2. I started writing without having a single idea as to plot or character. I was pretty sure I knew the setting I wanted to use, but that was it. As a result, the first day was very slow going, with frequent rewrites and dead ends, and as a result (I went back and read the first chapter, which is a NaNoWriMo no-no) the beginning of the novel is clunky and awkward. The lesson learned? Have at least a basic outline in place. Many writers prefer to let the story take them where it will, but an outline doesn’t preclude that from happening. You just need to listen to the characters.
  3. The more I write, the easier it gets. The first few days were hard. Really hard. I had to force myself to sit at the computer and hammer out the required word count. But by the third day, something strange happened. Something exhilarating. My subconscious mind started to take over. If you know anything about writing, you’ll be familiar with this idea. The story, or more accurately the characters, are planted in your head, and just as a seed, they begin to germinate on their own. Ideas for characters, and scenes, began to emerge, fully formed, without my having done anything to extract them. They were just there. The novel is starting to take on a life of its own. The lesson? Get out of the way and let the story happen.¬†And for that to happen, you have to write. Every day.
  4. Sometimes, it’s hard to hit the quota. It takes me, on average, about 90 minutes to hit the 1500-1600 word count. Even with the story taking control of the wheel. Yesterday, for example, was difficult. I didn’t want to write. After nearly two hours of pecking away at the keyboard, I had only written about 1200 words. Not enough. I was distracted and tired. E.B. White famously said “A writer who waits for ideal conditions¬†under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” And he’s right. But, we need to set ourselves up for success, n’est pas? It’s not about waiting for ideal conditions. It’s about creating an environment conducive to the task. The right time and place. The lesson? Write with the door closed (thanks, Stephen King), write when you have energy (morning, noon, or night…whenever you are at your best), and only write (remove the distractions).¬†I failed on all three fronts yesterday, and the novel suffered for it.
  5. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. There. I admit it. Perfectionist to a fault. This is not something useful for writing a novel in a month. I’ve had to resist the constant urge to rewrite and edit as I go along. There’s just not enough time. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality at this stage, and that takes some getting used to. As I mentioned in the previous post, my decision to participate this year had less to do with trying to write a fantastic first novel, and everything to do with establishing a creative habit. The lesson? Let it go. First drafts are supposed to suck. Tell the story, and then go back later – much later – to make it better.

More lessons as the month progresses, no doubt. But about a quarter of the way through, and it’s already one of the best decisions I’ve made about my writing. Ever. The story grew organically as I wrote. Slowly at first, but a little faster now that I’ve relinquished control. You’re not supposed to think, or care, whether it’s any good during NaNoWriMo. But 10000 words in, I’m starting to like this story. I care about my characters. And they’re talking to me. I just need to listen and get it all down.

Any other 2013 participants out there? What creative habit are you waiting to set? What’s stopping you?


Bryan Johnston

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.

International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a university sophomore, an eleven-month old charmer, & the two best doggos. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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