What I learned from Na No Wri Mo

It is December 3d and I do not have a book submitted for National Novel Writing Month. I have a start—a solid one—of fifteen thousand words in a middle grade novel. I did not succeed in writing 1,500 words each day, but I did many other things.

This is what I learned:

  • I need more sleep than 2 or 3 hours a night.
  • Scrivener is an awesome tool.
  • I need more time to think when I am shifting genres than I thought.
  • There are awesome, supportive people in the writerverse.
  • I don’t have to finish  on someone else’s timeline to succeed.

I have known since college that I do better when I actually sleep for more than a few minutes. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m good about giving up the day and going to bed. I wasn’t when I was sixteen and I’m not now. There is so much I want to DO. How can I go to bed?

During the last thirty or so days I have found myself, red eyed and weepy, watching a dog video at 3 a.m. This is bad. Not only bad for me as a human, but terrible for me as an employed person with a job that requires I be able to string a few sentences together. It is also not so great for the mom me. She needs to be able to listen to what people have to say about where they are going and who they will be with. She also needs to provide sustenance. (She is single after all and there is no one else here to do it.)

Just in case you didn’t make note, I mentioned that I was watching dog videos at 3 a.m. Not pounding out the last sentence of a perfect chapter, dog videos. Sometimes cat, I’m not going to lie. I don’t discriminate when I’m procrastinating and avoiding. I realized on one of these long and wretched nights, it was bed I was avoiding, not writing.

Every day that passed without reaching the needed word count was a day I felt I lost. If I went to bed, the day was done.

When I was productive, I spent a lot of time with Scrivener. This is the second time I’ve used Scrivener to write a novel and the first time I used it well. I get it now. Every chapter has a cork board with notes. This tool is the BEST THING EVER when you have to go back and remind yourself of character names or leave a note to add something in chapter 3 so chapter 9 makes sense! (Note the exclamation point. I don’t use them, like, ever. Even when a character yells, “Fire.”)

Organization aside, I love the way the chapters pile up in the files on the left side of the window. I also love the way I can set word count goals for the novel and for the session. When I got toward the end of November, my single session goals reached really crazy numbers, like 15,000. Even though that bar graph stayed red, I did appreciate that the overall word count, set at 50,000 for the occasion, had moved to pale orange, almost yellow by the 30th.

If you haven’t tried Scrivener, do. It takes a little getting used to and some practice, but it is an awesome tool.

Pondering is not something I have a lot of time for. Back when my life was calmer, I used to take long walks. I ran through characters and scenes as I walked, sometimes solving a complex set of issues over the course of 3 or 4 miles. Shifting genres and making the decision to write in third person instead of first, caused me to need  time to think and run through different scenes in my head, time I really don’t have right now.

There were many days when I intended to write that I found myself running through different scenes and character decisions instead. This is important work and I always got a lot accomplished on the days that followed this time I dedicated to thinking about the people and the story. It is a double edged sword though, for the obvious reason that if I am pondering, I am not writing and NaNoWriMo does not have a designation for thinking through 50,000 words, you have to actually write them down on virtual paper.

No National Novel Writing Month would be complete without the social component. Though I didn’t get to any events this year, I love reading the blog posts, Facebook posts, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and every other social media platform where people congregate to encourage each other and share war stories.

Writing is a lonely gig. Having people to share it with who understand why you wake up in the middle of the night calling out the name of a character from your novel and rush around the house for pad and paper (the laptop is shut down, of course) to write your thoughts down before you forget, are a rare and beautiful thing. Our particular type of crazy needs to commiserate. We all do better when we know we aren’t alone.

The best part about the NaNoWriMo experience this year is that I didn’t come unglued because I didn’t finish. I have written a novel a year for the last 8 years. I have been prolific . The fact that I finished one in September and am already fifteen thousand words into another is commendable. Not only that, but I love this book. My success is in building a world my where my characters can thrive.

This new story moves me and drives me to spend hours researching so that the story rings with truth and reality. I look forward to sitting back down with these beautiful people and getting to know them better—after the holidays.

I didn’t finish 50,000 words, but I did create beautiful characters and a world I love. It is powerful enough that I know I will go back to it.

I want to know how it ends.