Do Or Die
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Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

At 11:20 pm on November 30 I clocked in at over 62,000 words, 113 pages. And I typed: THE END. 

I'm under no illusion that I wrote anything good. Trust me. And so many of you were so nice, all "Oh, I'm SURE it's better than you think it is!" and "You are your own worst critic!" and that may be the case, but TRUST ME. Let me even give you an example or two. How about:

  1. I have a character who is a Big Time Character in the first 15,000 words of my story. Then I kick her to the curb, until we reach, oh, 55,000 words. Then she shows up again, when it's convenient. I have absolutely no clue what she is doing in the meantime. NO CLUE.
  2. I have a transition or two consisting of: "And then some time passed." Because that's all I could think of to move me to the next scene. No really.
  3. I am pretty sure the word "had" accounts for at least a third of my word count. 

I think what I have is more a skeleton of a story, maybe "a plowing through of an idea to find out what I really want to say", other than a STORY. Maybe a pre-draft before a first draft. And I'm not entirely sure I figured out what I want to say. It wasn't until Sunday, when I was thinking about my novel during Mass (I KNOW) (at least I wasn't thinking about selling my kids on eBay) when I finally felt like I knew what my main character's motivation is (and I'm choosing to believe this came to me via Divine Revelation.) And there is no plot. HA! What is this PLOT thing I hear everyone talking about? However. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is longish. It is finished. That's more than I can say about any writing project I've taken on since, oh, HIGH SCHOOL. 

I learned a thing or two over the last thirty days. I have to say, I learned most of these things after the first WEEK of NaNoWriMo. And I should include the following disclaimer: I used a story premise I'd been thinking about since early spring, so it's not like I was starting super fresh and intimidated by the word count requirement. I knew I had things to say. But still. I learned that

1. I have a book in me. I suspected I did, but I wasn't sure. I have a really hard time coming up with IDEAS. I think I've had four or five half decent novel ideas, ideas I started working on only to get mired in the "I can't do this! What was I thinking!" swamp, promptly shelving that idea forevermore. And I can't come up with an exciting plot to save my life. I'm more a "ooh, what if this character hung out with this character and maybe they, uh, walk down the street or something, but their conversation is just so SCINTILLATING!" kind of idiot. So yeah. But during NaNoWriMo I just kept asking myself, "What happens next?" And I would allow myself a few minutes to think (or pour more wine, or rifle through the potty training candy) and usually the first or second thing I'd think up, I'd just go with it. Which is why my story is so BAD, but at least it WENT somewhere. And I had no idea it COULD go somewhere. I even finished the stupid thing. 

2. I might have another book in me. More surprising than the fact that I finished - I've been thinking of OTHER ideas. I started thinking up other ideas during week two and three. They ALSO have no plot or no real ending in sight, but neither did my first idea. I managed to finish my first one, right? I bet I could do this again. And I bet I'd write something better the second time. It'd HAVE to be better. I've heard so many people say that you have to get your first book out and written and done. And then you move on to your second book and THAT'S the one worth reading. Who knows if this applies to everyone, but since my first story is AWFUL and my second story is still an IDEA, I rather like the sound of it.  

3. I can write every day. I made time to do this, namely during naptime and after the kids went to bed while Phillip did his hour or two of schoolwork. I also spent two Saturdays and one Monday camped out on my parents' couch and my in-laws' Panera respectively, writing for hours and hours while grandparents watched my kids. That's how I reached 62,000 words, but I don't need to pound out 10,000+ words a week. My hour or two a day is perfectly doable, and most days I even WANTED to spend that time writing. 

4. But I can't write every day and do everything else too. For the first time in my life I had to choose how I spent my time. Even with the kids, I fudge things here and there so I'm checking my email and updating the blog and still getting everything done. I even found a way to EXERCISE most days and still get everything done. But not writing. I need more time, and longer chunks of time, to be productive, and that means I don't do the dishes. Or I don't do baths. Or I don't exercise. Or I eat whatever is within reach. Or I don't update my website or return emails although, granted, those are extreme measures. I gained a couple pounds, my floors look awful, I take my children out of the house looking like urchins. 

5. And it's okay to let that stuff go. Well, maybe I didn't let it go so much as I didn't give myself such a hard time when it didn't get done. I was working on MY project and I was doing well (if we're judging by word count, which we are for NOW) and I was getting somewhere. And Phillip even said to me that he was happier knowing that I was happy working on something. 

And since I love reading acknowledgments in novels...


My parents and in-laws, for making it possible for me to spend entire afternoons on the couch, computer perched on my lap, my Taylor Swift Pandora station drowning everything else out.

My partner in novel writing angst, Charlotte Pants, who wrote hers in LONGHAND on LEGAL PADS, OMG.

Elizabeth, who reassured me that not all YA novels must include sex, although they must include large amounts of LONGING. (Check.)

A handful of IRL friends who, though they are not at all interested in Writing, be it on the internet or in a Word document, instantly responded to my every NaNoWriMo-related Tales of Woe with the email equivalent of spirit fingers. 

The internet friends who kept saying they wanted to read it (NO WAY JOSE) because I actually believed them and that made me feel like I should keep going.  

My kids, who are constant reminders of how much better my life is than I ever pictured in high school.

My husband, who consistently encourages me to take up non-paying and time consuming projects, simply because he wants me to find and do what I love doing.  



Aww your last two acknowledgments are so precious. Way to go on this whole thing. Totally amazing.

C @ Kid Things

Just the fact that you wrote 113 pages is phenomenal to me.


Wow. Even if the book WERE total crap (and I am still convinced that it IS NOT), I think it would be worth it just for the lessons learned.


I agree with C @ Kid Things.

Also, "the e-mail equivalent of spirit fingers" made me laugh.


Will you let us all read it if we put on our best puppy dog faces and beg? Because I'm still not convinced over here that it sucks.


LOL. You kill me.
I am still interested in reading it, but, I get it if you don't want to show anyone. But the next one... I'm waiting with baited breath.


AWESOME! You're my Nano hero. I totally FAILED! Haha. But I'm still happy because I'm actually excited about the novel I'm writing and I think I can continue, at a slow pace because I just plain write slow.

Also? I am so bad at plot! It is my hang up! I have ideas but they're not exciting plot point ideas... and you know, I kind of need a framework to hang my characters on, you know? Have you found, though, that since you started writing your novel, ideas about what happens in it kind of show up in your head at weird moments?


Sarah in Ottawa

If you won't let me read your story, can you at least spill about the characters whose names mirror those on VM? I'm dying or curiosity!

Congrats on kicking butt this November.

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