Archive for December, 2011

I’m a winner! NaNoWriMo 2011

So I succeeded in my goal to write 50000 words of a new novel in the month of November. It feels good.

This is my third time and my third win 🙂

I’m happy about that, but I’m not just showing off. I thought I would share my thoughts on why I find NaNo a useful challenge, what I’ve learnt from it, what I’ve got out of each time and how the experience differed. And hey, that might be a long blog post, or I might cut it down, but, err, well, I’ve kind of turned off the inner editor so I’ll try not to ramble too much!

The first time I did NaNo was in response to being advised I should by the tutor on a writing course. I was quite resistant to the idea. No way could I write that much that fast! It had taken me years to get past chapter 3 for goodness sake! And I was already working on a novel but NaNo wants you to make a new one. You can be a rebel of course, but the first time I do something I prefer to do it properly!

So I checked out the site. Ooh, pretty forums… I think I was lost at the forums. I enjoy forums. (Or should that be fora?) They remind me of newsgroups, waaaay back at the dawn of the internet…

Anyway, I wanted to play, but I wasn’t sure I could really spare the time. I had a PhD to write. And we had a family crisis on. But maybe that was why it seemed so tempting, escaping into a fictional world where I had complete charge. I decided I would write fiction in the time I would usually read fiction, so for that month I gave up reading novels and on the morning of Nov 1 I signed up and began!

In order to justify the time spent writing anything other than my thesis, I decided to write a story set in 12th century Norway, in a little settlement in the fjords, with a stavechurch, and each chapter would be about a different runic inscription written on it. I used real runic inscriptions from real stavechurches, I just made up the story behind how it got onto my invented church. It was great fun!

I learned so much from that first time. About my field of study – it was so useful to spend some time imagining the world they really lived in, their day to day concerns, what might lie behind each text. Also to discover little areas about which I just didn’t know enough, like how many people would be in a bishop’s retinue when he consecrated a church. So it was great for my studies, as a new perspective.

Also it was enormously helpful for my confidence as a writer, both of fiction and a thesis, that I could write so much! The most I had written previously was 15000 words of my MA dissertation (on Self-Referential Runic Inscriptions) and 12 chapters of a novel at maybe 3k each, if I recall right. And I could meet the goal. I even finished a couple of days early.

But as soon as I reached 50k I stopped dead, halfway through a chapter and I’ve never gone back to it. Oh I’ve read it a few times – I got it printed as a book (with Blurb, who I recommend), which made me happy to see, as a reward to myself for having done it! But the poor characters are still dangling where I left them…

Also the forums taught me heaps. I had no idea how to write a novel really, but I found books and websites there which have been so helpful. Snowflake, Storyfix and Kristen Lamb are worth checking out.

Last year I wanted to do it again because it had been so great. But I really really couldn’t spare the time from my thesis, because my upgrade was due. So I used the motivational aspect and the feeling of community, a bunch of folks working towards a difficult shared goal, and Nanoed my thesis!

I still think this sounds crazy. Actually, I think it would be. Because I very quickly realised that it is not possible to write 50k of a thesis in a month, and it was killing me trying! I had to compromise. What the hey, I was a rebel anyway, because what I was writing was no novel. I included my process journal for the month too. I think I ended up with about 15k being thesis words, which was great actually because 15k was what I was supposed to have for the upgrade. It’s just that there’s a universe of difference between a first draft and polished ready-for-publication academic writing. But that was for the coming months. You can’t edit nothing!

A process journal is a really useful tool anyway, so it was fair to include it. It’s where I recorded my thoughts and plans, how I felt about it (a vital vent!) and a way to problem solve how to proceed.

And that time I couldn’t just ditch my writing at the end of the month. No, I had to push on through December, cancelling Christmas (apart from I did go to the carol service and to my parents for the actual day).

And in the middle of January I reached burnout and had to go off sick, diagnosed with a stress condition. As I began this blog during that time (why? why did I think I needed another writing challenge right then? I think I needed an outlet…) I suppose it must chart some of that, were I to go back and read it. I will one day, maybe in January.

And so we come full circle, to this year’s Nano. As I’ve hardly written much this year – this blog for the first half of the year, a few poems and a my crochet journal, I felt it would be a good way to try and rediscover the joy of writing. I believed it was important towards my recovery to set and achieve this goal, in particular.

It worked. I enjoyed it. It was hard some days to make myself write, and I’m surprised to say I hardly touched the forums this year. But I wrote a fun and very self indulgent story. The best day, my character woke up in this brilliant fantasy place, went down the waterfall water slide to swim in a pool with giant waterlilies, then had breakfast in the garden and hiked in the forest by a stream, where she sat on a mossy rock and crocheted.

I actually had a brilliant day the day I wrote that too! I think it put me in nearly as good a mood as if that had been my morning!

So I’ve learned that I can still achieve this goal. Hopefully I’m getting a bit better, as I don’t think I’d have even begun, let alone finished, had it been much sooner in the year.

And if I edit it veeery heavily and work on it some more, there is actually enough of an idea in there that I can play with it more if I want to. I wonder if I will this time? Or will those characters also wait in limbo…

I’m not sure it matters, because I have rediscovered my joy in writing, so I know I’ll write something, whether it’s this one or one of the many others jostling for attention. The goal gets closer, the more I practice and the more I learn.

And that’s 1267 words, which is only 400 less than the daily word count goal for Nano, so I’ll stop there. If I was really kind, I’d cut this post in two, but it’s late and I just want to finish. I hope you don’t mind. OK, I really do need to stop now! What do you think of Nano?

December 1, 2011 at 11:13 PM 2 comments

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