What I Learned from My First NaNo

NaNo is over! I made it! The best thing is I have a rough (so very, very rough) first draft. It’s more of a really fabulous outline with a lot of dialogue. The point is, there are 50,000 words that weren’t there a month ago. And that is winning, indeed.

I learned a few things from my first NaNo, things that I already knew but were exacerbated by focusing on quantity over quality of the words. First, I need a loose outline. I went into NaNo with a tight outline, and it perhaps wasn’t the best plan of attack.

Not that I feared straying from the outline, I thought the outline was strong and I was excited for the story I was telling. But sticking to it made it harder to output higher word counts because there was less wandering in the words. Wandering isn’t good or bad. It will lead to more editing down the line, but a higher word count for the time being, which I could’ve used. But, like I said, less editing down the line. All in all, working from a tight outline made NaNo harder.

However, the greatest discovery came from having a tight outline. On the days when I was sick of the outline and couldn’t get excited about writing a scene, I reread a book that I loved that had a similar tone and style to my MS. It became a writing exercise. Reading freed me up to skim and skip around, find something that inspired me, and write a corresponding passage for my MS. I wrote character backgrounds and small but important details that can be inserted at a later time. It felt like cheating. Perfectly productive, legitimate cheating.

This is a practice I will continue when I’m stuck on a manuscript. Rereading a book that I love is the greatest inspiration. Since I know the twists and turns and the ending, I won’t become immersed and lose a lot of time.

During November, I wrote every day, and I think that’s the only way I could succeed at NaNo. Even if I was completely uninspired and burnt out, the thought of having to write significantly more on another day to make up for it was daunting. I’d fight an extra hour late at night to get a few hundred more words.

It was a marathon of a month. But, then again, all writing feels like a marathon.

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