Friday, December 1, 2017

NANOWRIMO 2017: Lessons Learned

Yep, somehow I managed it again. Right down to the wire this time, where last year I was a day early. But it happened.

Now titled The Widow Box, it's a book that maybe has some promise. Probably as a visual novel, for reasons I'll mention later. But it's a story I like and something I'd like to do something with in future.

As I say everywhere and always, I consider NaNo to be a learning experience. I've written and published books before, but I still have various and sundry to pull from it. Having won it one year prior, I figured I was coming in with a pretty good mentality, and I was less panicked over time and productivity this time.

So it was a very different sort of experience.

LESSON 1: Finding your catching-up method is as important as finding your writing method.

If you're in the US doing NaNoWriMo, there's a built-in speed bump to grapple with: the beginning of the holidays. My sister was visiting from Portland, which I consider a plus, but it meant coming home from great afternoons out and remembering that I'd forgotten to plug 1,700 words into my story.

I did eventually find a catch-up method that allowed me to get back up to par after missing a day or two without burning out. Having "par" to look at on the site also helped a lot -- even on days when I was doing multiple days' worth of writing, it gave me cut-off points between which I could do other work and clear my head.

Though I prefer to put in some writing every day, I feel much better about having a backup plan for catching up instead of sweating around arrangements.


It seems I'm still not able to separate serialized work from long-term creations, as I panic to edit while I write. It's a waste of time.

Well, editing isn't a waste of time. But when you're screaming for a 50,000 word goal, it is extra work.

I mean, okay. Once in a while if you have a really important big thing you need to run back and plant? That's one thing. But the hard edit can come later, after the book has sat in a dark corner and you've been away from it for a while. The point is to get the words down, for better or for worse, and cope later.

LESSON 3: Let symbolism happen.

Considering I've written an entire damn study on this, you'd think I'd let it apply to me.

As I was doing rough planning for The Widow Box, I lay down some very basic symbolism. Subtle stuff I could build on without it being too blatant and going overboard, and that I still had wiggle room within in case the story changed as I wrote.

Funnily enough, most of what I planned ended up falling between the cracks. But as I kept writing, I found that other things sprang up of their own accord when I wasn't looking. It occurred to me to latch into them and play them up... but honestly I figured if my subconscious was doing this well on its own, trying to take control would turn the whole thing insufferably Art School.

When I read back after it's been simmering for a while, I'm curious how it'll look.

LESSON 4: Finishing a big project always feels amazing.

I had a teacher in high school who would assign us long papers because "finishing a big project feels good." (This guy wasn't an asshole -- he was as close to Dead Poets Society as we peasants will ever hope to get.) He was not wrong, and frankly, that's part of the reason I do NaNo: to type those last words.

There's something really satisfying in putting a pin in NaNo, though, of all things. Which is not to say that not finishing has no value. Any work you put in, whether planning or attempting or getting part way, has an impact and helps you improve. But no matter how many projects I do, I can't beat the feeling of accomplishment of finishing that month.

I'm not sure where The Widow Box will go from here. I have some ideas and hopes. We'll see. In the meantime, I hope anyone who participated in this year's NaNo did well, and those who are considering it will be inspired to try next year.


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