NaNoWriMo 2015: A Recap

Today is the last day of November, and the last day of my first attempt at climbing the NaNoWriMo mountain. I fell far short of my goal of 50,000 words (clocking in at just over 15,000).

Point of fact, I haven’t touched the novel in a week, which was the best possible decision for me. Rather than frantically trying to meet the deadline, I spent time relaxing with family and friends, and I enjoyed investing in those relationships.

Despite not “winning” this year, I have still greatly benefited from this experience. While none of these are groundbreaking revelations, I (re)learned some useful truths this month:

  • I still love telling stories. When I am grabbed by an idea or a character, and start following it through, I get a charge of energy. On the other hand, if I skip a day or two of writing, I start to lose that excitement, and the voice of the inner critic kicks in. Once I fight through the resistance and sit down at the keyboard, I find that I can pick up the thread and really start having fun with it.
  • It’s strange and exciting when your characters surprise you. No, I’m not invoking the idea of the Muse. However, there were a few times when my characters “said” and “did” things I didn’t actually expect or plan.  One of my female characters changed from a foolish party girl to a wannabe criminal. My main character (a man trying to walk a righteous path) surprised me by lying to someone who trusted him completely. In times like these, when the words start flowing, you just hang on and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it, I did.
  • I need to research. Especially since I was diving into the realm of “write what you don’t know,” both in terms of genre and subject matter, I needed to get more background in order to bring any realism to the story. I ran into that problem several times. So, lesson learned: next year, October will be National Novel Research Month for me.
  • I should spend more time thinking through the “big idea” in my story. Stephen King talks about growing an entire novel from a single image or line in his head. Well, good for him–but newbies like me need to plan better. What I realized after writing 15K words was that I was losing a handle on the story I thought I wanted to tell. The novel was becoming something else, something similar and interesting but not quite right. When I started writing, I didn’t have a clear enough idea of the big idea behind the narrative. While I know that this can also be sorted out in the editing process, I would rather take some time and refine my concept before moving forward.
  • That kind of daily output is gruelling, even for seasoned writers. Even writers who live and breath their craft balk at this level of production. It’s a mad marathon–that was part of the reason I wanted to try. And this month reminded me that pursuing this passion must cost me something. Every day, I had to decide if I was willing to pay that cost. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t. If anything, this experience has made me more honest (with myself, most of all) about how much I actually want to write, and what I am (and am not) willing to do for it.
  • My life is still a bit out of balance. The most important thing I learned was that my daily life isn’t quite balanced yet. I don’t give the most time or energy to the things that matter most. Maybe I’m not even sure what matters most to me. But this experience has shown me that December should be a time to reflect and decide where I want to invest my time and energy, and which pursuits are most meaningful to me. I think writing will become a more consistent part of that.

So, as reader Jaimie pointed out, NaNoWriMo 2015 was a success–not in the way I expected, but in the way it needed to be. I’m glad I attempted it, and I’ll definitely do it again. And next time, I’ll have a better idea of what it requires.

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