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What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2017

I had signed up for NaNoWriMo eons ago, and by eons I mean over a decade. And yet, despite the initial, and recurrent, desire to take part, I never did. First and foremost, it's taken me years to come to terms with the idea of sharing the odd goings on which call my head their home. Secondly, there has always seemed to be some perfectly convenient excuse, as there always is, for why it's not convenient to do it now.

But despite the eternal headaches of holidays, schoolwork - and this year, actual final exams - coinciding with NaNoWriMo, I decided to shut up and just try it this year. Something about feeling that I had such lovely, and valid, excuses built in for any possible failures, made it seem somehow less frightening to think of doing so. So what if I only hit 20,000 words, I thought, that's way more than I had, and I can always blame it on school.

In the interest of honesty, I must admit, I started with about 4,000 words I'd previously written. But since I am a dyed in the wool 'pantser' and didn't pre-plot a thing, I feel like that's an advantage that probably just sets me on level ground with those who knew exactly what they were about to write. See, I used NaNoWriMo to work on one of the two novels I had started which are destined (or doomed) to become a couple of series I want to write. Both of which I had taken to about 4-5,000 words, and left to languish earlier this year. I like the ideas, and believed I was excited to work on them, but also was convinced I lacked the time.

My novel was originally conceived as a caper series. My MC is a woman who just turned 40 and is deeply dissatisfied with her mundane job and boring life. She decides, half as a joke, half as a dare to herself, to see if she could ever pull off a heist of her own, like the ones in the books and tv shows she loves. She ends up completely changing her life, and the character ended up going off in some directions I wasn't expecting - as I said, I'm incapable of outlining - not that that's a bad thing. She's wound up becoming less of a thief and slightly more of a crusading Robin Hood. I like her, perhaps even more for the fact that she went places I wasn't expecting. I want to keep coming back to her and seeing where she goes. And, really, what more can you ask from a character you birthed with the goal of writing a series?

So NaNoWriMo 2017 ended with my novel hitting 40,004 words. Not the 50,000 we were all aiming for during the 'competition'. Not the 60,000 - 80,000 of many typical novels. Not the stated goal, admittedly. But a number of which I am quite proud. I know as I revise it things will be added, while others might be cut. I will try to take it up to 50-60,000, but I also feel like I hit a genuinely good breaking point for the series. I think most of the word growth will have to come by fleshing things out throughout the story, rather than adding on to the end. And fleshing out is not my strongsuit. I'm a cutter and a gutter, more than a fluffer and padder. I like short sentences. But I also know I'll get it where it belongs.

And all of this leads me to what valuable epiphanies I've had in the wake of NaNoWriMo 2017.

  • I can write 35,000 words in a month.
  • I can pull off 6,922 words in one day if I try hard.
  • I can write most of a novel, I'm mostly happy with, without outlining it the way people say you must - meaning, I can do it my way (even though it might be harder or slower).
  • I can write 2,000 words, most days.
  • My writing flows best between midnight and 2 am.
  • I can write a novel at the same time I'm finishing, and taking finals, in a 7.5 week long class where I pulled off 95%
  • I HAVE NO MORE EXCUSES (aside from mental hang ups or general laziness) to not write more. I can certainly never again use lack of time as my scapegoat.


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