November might mean Thanksgiving and black Friday to the uninitiated, but writers know it is National Novel Writing Month. Between 12:01 AM on November 1 and 11:59 PM on November 30, thousands of authors all over the world commit themselves to writing a 50,000 word novel.
2011 marked my first year as a NaNoWriMo participant. At 9:00 AM on November 30, I confirmed my word count at 50,200. I won!
So, what did I learn from my successful participation in NaNoWriMo? Actually, quite a lot.
1. Free-writing is fun.
In order to pound out 50,000 words in a single month, you have to put a choke collar on your inner editor and just allow the words to flow however they like. The results might cause your high school English teacher to faint in horror, but I guarantee you will have more fun--and more ideas for your fiction--than you've had in ages.
2. Procrastination = Pain
You can complete a 50,000-word novel at the relatively sedate pace of 1667 words per day. Or, you can do what I did, blow off a bunch of days, and then spend the day before zero hour writing 9000 words in an effort to catch up. Ow.
3. Write now, research later.
Most of my novel takes place around the Tower of London. I visited there once, but it was a long time ago, and my memory was spotty at best. So, I just made everything up as I went along. Sure, I'll do my research and verify facts if I ever decide to polish my NaNo novel into something publishable, but for the rough draft, my imagination worked just fine.
4. Bribe yourself shamelessly.
In order to meet my word counts, I dangled carrots like naps, holiday earrings, trips to the movie theater, and new books in front of my nose. Sure, hitting the final word mark was a huge reward in itself, but a little positive reinforcement along the way never hurt anything either.
5. Rough drafts are supposed to be...well, rough.
About halfway through my novel, I decided I didn't like my main character's last name so I changed it midstream. I also changed a supporting character's profession at least three times, and I'm still not sure whether my protagonist's eyes are blue or green. Like the historical details about the Tower, these are all things I can work out during the editing process. The important thing is that I have a strong, viable plot to work with, and that, I've got.
6. Let your characters surprise you.
A character that I initially imagined as something of a scoundrel turned out to have a heart of gold, and a character who started out weak and spineless became the story's unlikely hero. Because I allowed myself time and space to meander, my novel took many twists and turns that I had not anticipated during the initial plotting period. That's a good thing, because the original plot kinda sucked eggs.
7. A deadline is a deadline.
There were days when I wanted to give up on my novel. It wasn't a paying gig, after all, and nobody but me really cared whether I wrote those 50,000 words. Somewhere along the way, though, I decided that I was going to treat the NaNoWriMo deadline with as much respect as I treat deadlines set by my clients. That may seem a little strange, but it was actually very validating to give priority to one of my pet projects.
So, NaNoWriMo is officially over. I'm recovering from my sleep deprivation, and my wrists have almost stopped aching. I have just one more question: When can I start planning for next year?