Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2010
So, I won. I finished my 50,000 words. And it does not feel like a victory. Not really.
Completing a first draft of a middle grade novel, which I did, feels more like a solid achievement. And that was my true goal this year.
Even the first year I did NaNo, my underlying goal was to learn about myself as a writer and about why I had failed to complete a book-length work of fiction in my previous attempts. In 2008, I learned I lacked a deep enough understanding of the writer′s craft to sustain a prose narrative for that length.
Decades of script-reading for theatrical production had taught me enough about story structure that I saw both glimmers of potential and glaring problems in my NaNoWriMo 2008 product, but I had no idea how to fix the problems.
So, I started studying the craft of writing. By the fall of 2009, I had learned enough to start with a different plan. And, about 10,000 words in, I realized my plan was insufficient. To write new text at the rate demanded by NaNoWriMo, I had to spend more time churning out words and less time noodling over characters and world-building issues. I needed to know what I was going to write in much more detail, so I could just write it. I didn′t complete NaNoWriMo that year and the draft is still incomplete.
Going into this year′s challenge, I prepared even more.
- I decided to write for a market where 50,000 words is a complete story – a middle grade novel. I cannot sustain the pace of NaNoWriMo for long periods of time. I wanted a complete draft at the end of the month.
- I wrote an outline. I divided my 50,000 word goal into 20 chapters and wrote scene descriptions for each chapters that I estimated at 2500 words a chapter. My outline followed the structure outlined by Larry Brooks of storyfix.com. If I filled in those chapters, I would have a roughed out draft.
- I plugged my outline and my word goals into Liquid Story Binder software so I could manoeuvre around my manuscript without having to learn any fancy features in my word processor.
While writing, I realized I had missed some important pieces of world development, but I pushed through with quick research and invention as my guides. There are sections of my draft where a scene involves ″[magical object]″ or other incompletely defined articles. I know the properties that I want [magical object] to have and some of the thematic resonances it would be useful to underscore with the choice of object, but I need to research before I settle on a specific object. This will be part of the editing process.
I struggled against the form imposed by the original outline. If I had given myself longer to write the draft, I might have revised the outline more while writing. However, by writing the scenes that I had outlined, I did complete a story that is not missing any crucial elements. I failed at estimating how long each scene would be. My chapters range in length from 1000 words to 6,000 words.
I have a lot of editing to do, however I believe that this year’s draft is editable. My previous attempts need full overhauls if I want to revisit the ideas and characters. This is a huge improvement. NaNoWriMo has worked for me as a tool for developing my craft, but only because of the work that I have done between Novembers and the challenges I have set for myself beyond the mere 50,000 words.
If I take part in NaNoWriMo again next year, I will once again plan on writing a middle grade novel. For one thing, I love middle grade fantasy and science fiction. But, more importantly, if I am going to write at a pace I cannot sustain, I need to end up with a complete draft. Nothing less will satisfy me. To write an adult or YA length novel, I will need to set myself different challenges and different goals.
In the meantime, my goal for 2011 will be to revise this draft. And I will be learning how to edit a long piece of fiction. And so, the mastery of craft continues.