What I Learned from NaNo: Week 1

I thought I was crazy to attempt NaNo this year. So far, I was wrong.
Instead, I’ve learned a lot about writing, how I write, and the excuses I make for not writing.

First, I learned that careful plotting is extremely helpful. Before I start writing, I look at the chapter summaries I wrote (usually they are no more than three sentences) and visualize the scenes in my head. I think about what I’m going to write and dive in. The words just seem to flow and the characters start talking for themselves.

I also learned where my prep was lacking. I had a bunch of minor characters that had no names. Sometimes it’s ok if a minor character is nameless, but it can get awkward if two of the principles are discussing that person and never say his or her name. Good thing I had a list of possible names handy. Usually I could pick a name from the list and get right back to my story.

Then I learned about how I write. What’s hardest for me is getting started. I waste a lot of time thinking about sitting down to write, or getting myself psyched up to write. Having big blocks of time is one way to solve this.

On the other hand, I run out of steam in an hour or hour and a half of steady writing. The trick for me, them, is going to figure out how to take a break and revive my brain without losing momentum or having to go through the get-psyched-to-write routine.

Most of all I’ve learned about my excuses. I was sure I needed silence and solitude to write. And it would be impossible to write when I’m tired. This last week I’ve written while my relative watched Spanish-language soap operas or talks to the nurse who has come to check on her. If I try, I can tune all that out and lose myself in my story.

And big chunks of time? They happen, but not often. I’ve surprised myself of how many words I can squeeze out of fifteen or twenty minutes. And when I only have fifteen or twenty minutes, I have to use them writing, not getting psyched. That little ritual, I’m afraid, can only be called procrastination.

So at the end of week one, I’m closing in on 20,000 words, which is more than I’d have had I not signed up for NaNo. I’m grateful that it has spurred me on to achieve more than I thought possible, while it gives me something to think about other than my relative’s approaching death. I can turn my thoughts to a world I can control, one where the destiny of my characters is something I decide, instead of make my peace with.

If you didn’t try NaNo this year, I highly recommend giving it a try, even if you think there is no way you can finish. If you are doing it, what have you learned so far?

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