So, a while ago I posted a very upbeat blog about how well my first day of NaNoWriMo was going. Well, that didn’t last long. I haven’t made it to 50K and at this point, I’m not going to. Although I really wanted to win (this is my fourth year participating without ever winning), I’m perfectly okay with not making it to the finish line. I attempted it, which is more than a lot of other wannabe novelists can say. Plus, every year I’ve learned something from Nano.
My first year, in 2008, I made it to approximately 45,000 word around 11:30pm the night of the 30th. I was thiiiiiis close to joining the ranks of completed Nano novelists. For a newbie who had never written more than 20 pages of one story in her life, I felt pretty damn good about it. Getting interviewed on Baltimore NPR didn’t feel too bad, either. Today, that novel is thiiiiiiiis close to getting finished, final publishable draft and all. So close that after the holidays, I’m going to start stalking agents to get it published. That year I learned that I can be a writer, I will be a writer.
My second year, I started the sequel to 2008′s novel. Both were mysteries featuring the same private detective and a lot of angst. I didn’t get very far with that novel. Somewhere around 20,000 words, I believe. I petered out because I didn’t have a sustainable plot line and I wasn’t sure where things were going. I learned a lot more about my main characters, and I learned that plotting is absolutely essential to any writing, particularly mysteries. I still have that draft sitting somewhere abandoned on my hard drive, waiting to be resurrected in the near future. That year, I learned that my destiny as a writer isn’t to be a one-hit wonder, but with hard work and perseverance I can achieve my dream.
My third year, I was a senior in college. I made the terrible, terrible mistake of using the novel I was writing for NaNoWriMo in my creative writing class. It was fairly well-received, my professor liked it and so did my classmates. I had a ball moving away from any set genre or mode of writing and just letting out raw, unadulterated emotions onto the page (it was a story about a pregnant widow). I got critiqued, a lot. Which, as we all know, is not conducive to the NaNoWriMo style of writing. Lesson learned? First drafts are for the writer’s eyes only. And sometimes, so are second drafts.
This year, I went back to that same story. I guess I have trouble letting things go. I completely scrapped last year’s draft and started over with some new ideas. I wanted to write a powerful story about love, grief, death, sanity/insanity, and parenthood. I didn’t want to follow the “rules” of conventional storytelling; instead, I paid homage to my favorite style of writing, postmodernism. I randomly switched between narrators, added flashbacks where I felt like it, used swear words and uncomfortable topics of discussion. I learned that even though there’s a lot of elbow grease behind the process of writing, where it comes from is the heart, always. That was learned most acutely when I started crying at my computer because I could really relate to what my main character was doing/saying.
I love NaNoWriMo. There’s nothing like an impossible challenge or a group of kindred souls to get me motivated. But even though I didn’t win, it’s been a great process year after year. And isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?