NaNoWriMo Wash Up

by LimebirdCat

I wasn’t going to write on Limebird about the NaNoWriMo as I thought I would be terribly over-self-congratulatory.

Now I’m over the mad hysteria of victory and NaNoWriMo tis’ but a fading memory, I thought I’d share with you what I discovered about myself as a writer during the entire process.

I know you’re all fed up by now by hearing about NaNoWriMo, but don’t worry, I shall be mercifully brief.

It was my first NaNoWriMo and it had come at a bad time. I had just taken on a new role at work and was spending my days and even nights fighting furiously against deadlines. Then I got sick, twice.

I didn’t think that NaNoWriMo stood a chance of getting anywhere in my busy life, but I persevered. Each day I was below par and each day I tried to write a bit more. My word count was utterly abysmal and my fellow Limebirds were flying ahead of me with their stories. It was so hard to keep up with the word count when I barely had time to even eat a meal.

But I did it. I hung on in there, ignored my husband a great deal, but he was my biggest encouragement and even stopped me from watching TV or doing things in the house so I could have time to sit and write.

What I found though, other than the depths of my own tenacity, was how well I write under pressure.

The story I wrote, which is nowhere near written still, had begun life in my head in late 2010. I’ve been agonising over it for two years, writing and rewriting it, changing it one way and then moving it back. Everything was terribly stodgy and verbose without ever getting to the point. The dialogue was contrived and clumsy, the images were slow to materialise and caused me a lot of problems.

So, come NaNoWriMo, I decided to chuck out everything I had ever worked on in terms of the story and just recreate it, almost from scratch for the purposes of that exercise. It was the best thing I’ve ever done in writing. I didn’t give myself too much time to research and plan, just because I knew I’d over think it. I just waited for the starting whistle of NaNoWriMo… and off I went – running with the literary abandon they do so encourage.

My protagonists found their feet and their voices. My leading man aligned easier with how I saw him in my mind and my leading lady became vastly more complex. I’d spent two years trying to carefully plot and grow these characters, like a gentle, patient gardener with a prize winning rose. Now, after a month’s hard slog, I’ve laid down the foundations of my story.

Nick and Kitty refused to go away in my head. They kept providing me with Alan Bennett style ‘Talking Heads’ monologues about their lives and how they’re feeling. They wanted, and no doubt still do, their story told and I had been spending too much time trying to be clever and arty about how I told it. NaNoWriMo gave them a microphone and I a pad and a pen to jot everything down with.

When writing, I always take the ‘camp fire’ cue. It’s basically were you imagine the story is being told to someone sat there, sat round a camp fire, listening to how these two people met and what happened when they did. I don’t like writing in the present tense, it feels a bit artificial almost to me when I do it. A story is something that should be told and heard rather than a commentary, at least for me. It was when I realised this, which I was forced to by doing NaNoWriMo, that the story took off. I could hear my characters voices over other people’s and I could empathise with them more.

That is another, amongst many things, that I learnt about writing during NaNoWriMo.

Another thing I learned, was how much I love dialogue. My two leads are from the same county, Merseyside (North West of England), but from different towns. One from Liverpool, the other from my own home town of St. Helens (I’ve never read a book with someone from St. Helens in before, so I knew I had to write one with one in!). There’s a friendly, comic sort of rivalry between those two towns (or in Liverpool’s case, city) and I used that to great effect as Nick and Kitty tease each other mercilessly about where they’re from. It was fun and interesting to write and I could see how humour is how they initially form a bond. Before NaNoWriMo? Eurgh…. the dialogue was pretty awful. I thought too hard and it came across as some sort of low budget 1970’s  b-movie.

Thinking on my feet though, I thought quickly and got it down. I didn’t have time to think. NaNoWriMo has taught me to find my voice much easier and how to get my characters up and off the starting blocks. It also taught me what I suck at. I’m awful at descriptive language – it takes me a merry month of Sundays to write anything of import (as you’ve noticed with this post so far). I could easily spend five hundred words talking about a coffee table. Why would I want to do that? I have issues. At least they were thrown into sharp relief by NaNoWriMo.

I hope you can see that even someone who writes for the pure and simple love of creating words and not for the desire to be published, can be bolted down to something and actually come out with a lot of lessons learnt.

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21 Responses to “NaNoWriMo Wash Up”

  1. Ah I do love to read your blogs Cat. Your tone of writing and the way you tell your story is captivating and always makes me want to read more. I’m so happy you enjoyed your NaNo journey, and that Nick and Kitty are getting their story told! I hope you continue with it.

  2. That last sentence really speaks to me! Thank you.

  3. Very well done, both in perseverance and lessons learned. To me, that’s one of the best things about NaNo, is the chance to learn about yourself as a writer and what you’re capable of when the pressure is on. 🙂

  4. Thank you all for the nice and lovely comments in the wake of my blog. I hope it helped and encourages people who took part in NaNo to pause and examine what it is they learnt from the whole experience.

  5. I like the idea of redoing a novel that you were not satisfied with instead of chucking it out the window and moving on to a new project. The atmosphere of Nano can be very useful to us as writers should we choose to harness it. I’m glad that you joined us in the writing frenzy this year. 🙂

  6. I think the best thing I discovered when I did NaNoWriMo was that I actually could write a novel. Now I’m rewriting it and have discovered I need a writing group to force me to do it. Deadlines are everything!

  7. NaNo can be crazy…but I do love hearing stories like this, where it helps a storyteller find their story proper. Props to you, too, for being one of those who just wants to tell the story, not necessarily to be published! 😀

  8. Having finished my first nano, I have to say I’m not sure I would do it again. I’m left with a novel that needs heavy editing, and right now I can’t even stand the thought of looking at it.

    Looking back I didn’t like the constant pressure (I usually write well enough without the added stress when I put my mind to it) and found myself some days having whole blocks of paragraphs that I kept and put in a labeled “trash” folder but didn’t throw out just so I could keep the word count – which feels like cheating. Just feeling like I didn’t accomplish much and though I wrote a novel and I am glad I did, it looks as though that was the easy part and I’m stumped because I’m not sure where to start on the edits. I think I have PNSS (post-nano stress syndrome), lol.

  9. I enjoyed your post. However I think NaNo should come in a different month. There is so much going on in November….For me January would be much better. I always want to do it but find it nearly impossible in November, so I am going to attempt it on my own in January….I have a book to write….

  10. And I thought this job was going to be easy. 🙂

  11. “someone who writes for the pure and simple love of creating words and not for the desire to be published” — that is the best, true reason to write. Publishing should be secondary. Those who write with the goal of being published are 1) likely not to “succeed” and 2) missing the point entirely.

    Good for you for sticking with NaNo and letting your Muse take over!

  12. From one first-timer to another, many Congratulations!

  13. Like Beth I do love to read your blogs! NaNo sounds like a great success! Congrats on getting it out 😀 I usually work best under pressure too but for some reason this year’s nano stress got to me and made me freeze up, not sure what happened there.

  14. NaNo was definitely much more of a learning experience than I had expected, glad you learned some positive things!

  15. Congratulations on completing the challenge. I’ve never done it – put it off again this year – but hopefully one day, like you, I will embrace the challenge. Happy holidays.

  16. Even after having ‘won’ NaNo for two years running, I still learned something about myself as a writer with this latest NaNo. Perhaps it is the book or my own experiences with the writing, but either way I feel like I’ve grown somewhat from the experience. Congrats to you on your own experience. 🙂

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