A few days ago I outlined some of the things I learned about myself and about writing because I participated in NaNoWriMo. Here’s a continuation of that list.
I’ve had it easier than other people
Although I “won” NaNoWriMo on my first try, just because I did so doesn’t mean that I was a better writer than those who wrote only a few thousand words. The majority of people who attempt NaNoWriMo do not reach the 50,000-word mark. I think the fact that I did speaks to me being lucky more than anything else. There are a lot of time constraints that cut others’ word counts short. Here are a few of the circumstances that I felt made it much easier for me to reach the 50,000-word mark.
- I don’t do shift work or retail work. This meant that I had a consistent schedule around which to conduct my writing.
- I don’t work on weekends. This meant that when I did fall behind, I had time to catch up on my writing.
- I live with family. Having someone else worry about meals and housekeeping (though I do contribute) made things a lot easier.
- I’ve finished school. I’m pretty sure I would never have been able to juggle NaNoWriMo simultaneously with essays and midterms.
- I had people who cheered me on. My friends and family were interested in my progress and willing to discuss plot points with me. Writing the story would have been much harder to do if I didn’t have anyone close to talk to about it.
- I didn’t encounter any catastrophes. It’s obvious: sudden illnesses, accidents, computer crashes, or deaths in the family push writing to the backburner, which makes sense.
Just because you wrote 50,000 words doesn’t mean you’re “good,” and just because you failed to reach 50,000 doesn’t mean you’re “bad.” Sometimes it comes down to exactly how lucky you are.
I still haven’t figured out a writing routine
There were days when I didn’t write anything at all, and there were days when I wrote over 5,000 words in a mad rush to catch up. (Read: Sundays.) On some days I wrote in the morning, and on others I wrote in the evening. On weekends, I wrote throughout the day. Sometimes I wrote at home, while other times I wrote outside of the house. Sometimes I told myself that I would tackle a list of certain scenes, while on other days I decided to roll with whatever the muse chose to throw my way.
In short, my efforts to write weren’t consistent, although there were overarching patterns. It will take me a while to figure out when and where it is most optimal for me to write. Once I find out what works best for me, the question will then be how to keep things that way.
This is about discipline, not craft
At first, I thought a lot about the craft of the story. What was its theme? Who were my characters and how would I build their character arcs? How would I flesh out the setting? How could I weave backstory with the present day? A lot of these concerns were brought to my attention by the Writing Excuses podcast; their commentaries gave me a lot to think about. However, trying to incorporate these aspects to the story slowed me down.
As time wore on, I abandoned those questions of craft for this simple one: “What happens next?” I became a lot less focused on skill, and more focused on keeping the plot going and just getting the bloody words out. NaNoWriMo calls for pipes and welding and concrete foundations; the caulking and insulation can be added in the second draft.
Writing and identity politics
Let’s face facts: I’m a straight, white, middle-class woman, and I fell into the trap of almost all of my characters being straight and white, too. The only person who broke the mold was one of my protagonists, who is black. However, I haven’t put a lot of thought into whether his racial background affects the story. (Or whether it even should. Part of me thinks not.) On top of that, though, I’ve fallen into the trap of having only one or two female main characters in contrast to several male main characters. My story doesn’t pass the Bechdel test even though I majored in Womens’ Studies in university!
This has led to frustration. I don’t want my story to be full of boring, normalized, un-Othered characters, but I don’t want to add characters to my story who are “different” in one obvious way so I can be more politically correct. It’s a really hard tightrope walk, and I haven’t even begun to balance on it properly.
There’s a part in Watership Down after the does escape Efrafa, settle in Hazel’s warren, and start to dig burrows; in this part, they say that they never recognized how much of their frustration and unhappiness in Efrafa stemmed from being unable to dig. I now feel the same way about writing this story: I noticed this November that I felt happier because I had something to work on.
After this novel is done, I don’t know what I’ll do next. I think I’ll try my hand at writing a bunch of short stories. In any event though, I need to keep on writing. Hopefully, if I’m dedicated enough, I can pass through the phase of writing my crappy first million words and move onto stuff that is infinitely better.