NaNoWriMo - My First Experience

Whew!  November is over!  I feel like I've just run a mental marathon.  Probably because that's precisely what I've done.  For the first time ever, I have participated in NaNoWriMo.  That's National Novel Writing Month for those not in the Na-Know.  Haha, see what I did there? :-D  It was certainly an experience, and I say that with all the weight I can muster.  Here are my feelings after the fact:

--I'm really happy I did it.  This was such a good experience in so many ways.  Talk about discipline!  Talk about dedication!  And I learned so much.  See below for notes on what I learned.
--I'm really proud of myself.  Like, really, really stinkin' proud of myself.  I didn't know when I started what it would take (see notes above about dedication and discipline).  I didn't know if I would succeed.  I was thinking this was something I should try, to see what would happen.  And then about on day five or six I realized, "Holy crap.  This is really serious work to stay caught up."  And then I kept at it even though my brain was just so tired.  I kept writing even though there were a lot of times I didn't like what I was writing.  And then I finished.  I actually finished.  I had done it!  GO ME!!!
*Side note: If you also undertook this challenge, GO YOU TOO!!!  It's no small thing to make the attempt, and it's a monumental thing to accomplish the task.  Congratulate and reward yourself!
--I'm really glad it's over.  Like I said, I'm really happy I did it and I'm really proud of myself, but I'm also so, so glad it's done.  Finishing NaNoWriMo, to me, is a lot like finishing a particularly challenging run.  You're happy and proud that you pushed yourself, but you're also glad to be able to rest now.
--I would totally do it again.  Yes, as hard as it was, as pressured as I felt when I fell behind in my word count, the gratification I feel at having succeeded makes it totally worth it.

Even though I've released three books, I've never been particularly disciplined when it comes to writing.  I've always just done it whenever I've had time.  I've never lived or scheduled my life around any word counts or goals or anything.  The closest I've come to that is when I've set myself a release date and have to get a bunch of stuff done in order to make the book release happen.  Even that, though, was nothing like this.  The creative part of the process, the actual writing of a novel, is a beast unto itself.  It's a living creature that you have to wrangle (sometimes with more difficulty than you think you can handle) and guide and groom and then do it all over again until it's ready to go out to the rest of the world.  Forcing myself to keep writing has been such a bigger challenge than I anticipated, and here's what I learned from that:

--"Just keep writing".  That is what I always heard in my creative writing classes.  Every single one chirped this mantra, and it's easy to do when you have ideas in your head, when you know what you want to do with your characters at that moment.  When you don't, though, it's a laborious slog through your own mind's stagnant pools of uncertainty.  I used to think "just keep writing" meant that I could type out "and then some stuff happens here" and then start writing the next bit that I actually have a plan for, assuming I have a plan for other bits.  That doesn't work for NaNoWriMo because you need that word count!  That little six word sentence does little in the grand scheme of things.  Granted, you can skip ahead and write another chunk that happens later on in the story - I totally did this in a few spots - but what happens when you run out of ideas?  What happens when you write out all the chunks you have planned?  If you don't run out, awesome!  I'm really happy for you.  If you do, though, that's when you have to press on despite the vast desert of non-inspiration before you because you won't get anywhere standing still, which leads me to the next lesson I had to learn.
--Accept your garbage.  When you're force-writing*, the stuff that comes out of your mind and pops up onto the screen very well won't be shining examples of literary brilliance.  It might be painfully corny dialogue, unrealistic action scenes, utterly nonsensical side plots that don't go anywhere after you use them to make it back to the real story.  Accept it.  Even if it makes you embarrassed to call yourself a writer, accept it as a means to an end.  You can always go back during the editing process and rip it up and reconstruct it into something you are proud of.
  *Force-writing, I know, sounds kind of like something awesome, perhaps involving lightsabers, out of Star Wars, but sadly it's not.
--Description is your friend.  This is where I think I fall down the most as a writer.  Robin McKinley, one of my most favorite authors, has such a gift with scene setting.  She writes these beautiful descriptions of landscapes and describes rooms and buildings and in a way that makes you feel like you're right there.  I think I appreciate this so much because I am so neglectful of it.  I just don't think about it when I'm writing a book.  When doing NaNoWriMo, I still forgot about it more than I should have, but when I remembered, it was such a big help!  I could go back and enter proper descriptions for the first village we see once the story really gets going or what visual effect three moons in the sky had on the land below.  When your character walks into a room, what does it smell like?  What does the upholstery fabric or wood of a table feel like beneath your character's fingertips.  Is there music playing and, if so, what's that like?  Is a gleeful jig playing in the background, or is it more of a dirge?  Taking time to consider and write out these things will add depth to your story and also help smash your word count.
--Do not fall behind!  But if you do, get right back on the horse.  I wrote hardly anything the first four days of NaNoWriMo.  And then I sat down on the fifth and sixth days determined to catch up, which was when I started learned all the aforementioned lessons.  I did catch up, and then I wrote.  Every.  Single.  Day.  Just making yourself sit down and write is half the battle.  Just like running or any other kind of workout, the biggest challenge can be just making yourself start.  And once you're going, you're on your way!  I fully believe it's much easier to keep going once you've started than it is to just get going in the first place.
--Be proud of yourself.  Not to get off on a rabbit trail, but I feel like there's a thing in our culture that says we can't brag on ourselves, that speaking highly of ourselves is somehow bad.  Screw that.  You are an amazing, unique human being with a combination of skills and talents and gifts that no one else in the world has.  Every time you start to feel discouraged, I want you to say this to yourself - "You've made a commitment.  You're trying something lots of people only talk about.  You are strong and capable and creative.  You're trying, and that counts for something."  I'll say it again because it's true and maybe someone out there needs to hear it: you should be proud of yourself, so do.

What a month.  And now that I've emotionally and verbally vomited on all of you, please feel free to do the same with me. :-) What was your experience like?  What did you learn?  I'd love to hear from all you other amazing people.

Feel free to connect with me on NaNoWriMo's website.  You can find me by my username, danafraedrich , or my novel name, How Guy Griffin Saved the World (Sort Of) .  You can also follow me on Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter @danafraedrich or on Facebook as whatiftales .