By the numbers, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo. I didn’t clinch the prize of having a draft filled with 50,000 words, and I certainly do not have a document that is in any way ready for publishing.
But, I feel like I won. I attempted something that I would have typically considered impossible, and just the fact that I was able to get somewhere with it is an achievement. A few days into December, the director of NaNoWriMo, Chris Angotti, sent out an email to all participants that said, “No matter how far we made it, we claimed the brave mantle of ‘Novelist.’ By signing into our site, we declared our intentions to put something new into the world. And we worked—every day, every other day, once a week, or even just a few days in the month—to make it happen.” I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more: I do now feel like a novelist.
So, what did I learn from NaNoWriMo, even if I didn’t win?
Perfectionism – and love of editing – can paralyze a first draft.
Lucky me, I’m guilty on both counts. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m really more of an editor than a writer. And it’s a disastrous combination when beginning a novel. (Often, it’s a problem when beginning anything.) It’s difficult to move past sentences that are not what I want them to be, that have typos, that are not brilliant. NaNoWriMo forced me to let go of those hangups, and instead focus on productivity. It is nearly impossible for a first draft to be great, and NaNoWriMo helped me see the value of just having a first draft, regardless of its quality.
I hate the middle.
The beginning of the novel is incredibly fun. You get to dream up characters and write all the scenes that flow naturally out of your head. The world of my novel seemed endless during the first ten days or so of NaNoWriMo. My husband and I recently had a conversation about what part of a project we like best: the beginning, middle, or end. Of course, everyone is different, but me, I like parts of the beginning, and the end is my favorite. (See above for why. I love polishing things.) For my husband, the beginning is the best. You can take risks, and anything seems possible, and I saw that in action with the beginning of this novel. Then, midway through November, someone asked me if the writing was still easy, and I honestly had to reply “no.” You start to see where your plot holes are, where your characters’ personalities are a little out of touch with their true selves, and worst of all, you can’t quite tie everything together. It’s like you have Point A and Point C, but Point B eludes you. That part feels hopeless, and writing your way out of it is serious work. But that brings me to…
Writing is hard work, but hard work is good.
I can’t help but think of the words of a beloved writing teacher in college: “Do hard things.” If you do hard things, you’ll
have natural fodder for writing. If you don’t surmount challenges, if you don’t try, if you live a boring life, how can you expect to write anything interesting? I think I learned the truth of that more than ever this NaNoWriMo. The allure and glamor of the best-seller novel industry leads many, I think, to believe that becoming a writer, or publishing a book, is the dream life. And don’t get me wrong, I would love to have that life. But it’s delusional to think that it has no challenges, that it doesn’t come with hard days, or that it doesn’t involve real, grinding, difficult work. Art frequently appears effortless, but any artist will tell you that it is not.
In the end, I officially wrote 25,282 words during November, and since then, I am nearly at 30,000 words. My goals for the next few months are to learn my new noveling software – Scrivener (20% off with code “NANOWRIMO” until January 1), to actually get to 50,000 words for my first draft, and then to share a few of the more polished parts of the novel with friends for feedback. And thanks to NaNoWriMo, writing is much more of a habit for me, and a re-discovered joy. It’s also made the idea of writing a novel tangible and possible. I couldn’t have asked for much better from a 30-day journey!