Friday, November 5, 2010

The NaNoWriMo Experience

Please welcome guest blogger Sharon Clare!

Last year, for the first time, I successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge having spewed out 50,178 words during the month of November. And spewed out pretty much sums it up.

To share some of last year’s statistics on NaNo, 167,150 people participated. Of those writers, 32,173 writers completed the challenge successfully meaning a 19.2% win rate. A little less than I expected, but none too shabby either.

To get ready for the competition, I outlined my novel using Karen Weisner’s First Draft in 30 Days. With this method, I described each scene in a few sentences, so when it came time to write, I didn’t waste time pondering what to put on the page. To keep up the pace, as a daily goal, I tried to write 1,700 words. For the most part I was able to keep to this, but missing one day meant writing 3,400 the next day, so after a couple of those days, I really focused on writing each day.

With the launch of NaNo 2010, I reflected back on last year’s experience to tally up the benefits of this all-out write-a-thon. Well, one major benefit, I wrote 50,178 words. Admittedly, it’s an incredibly rough manuscript that I’d never share with a human soul, but it’s also a spring board to what I hope will be a good story—with major revisions. That said, I now realize a year has passed and I’ve not gone back to that manuscript yet. Not yet, but I will.

Benefit number two. Even though the competition ended at midnight on November 30th, we were not been abandoned by the NaNo organization. On the NaNo website, authors gave advice on how to rewrite those 50,000 odd words into a sellable manuscript. Chris Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo and author of No Plot? No Problem! His advice struck a chord with me: "Do not spend a single second making your prose readable until you're absolutely, positively sure that you have your story locked down.”

This has been a major hurdle for me. I’ve never been able to resist tightening each sentence from the previous day’s work before I could continue writing. And my rewriting obsession didn’t end there. I then polished each chapter in linear sequence. The main reason for this was to present a decent read to my critique group. In my defense, I’m not alone in this. Many of us in the group write that way, presenting our polished but first drafts to each other, looking for feedback one scene at a time. And while this is helpful on one level, I’m not sure it best serves the story because once I’ve polished a scene I’m reluctant to part with it. From NaNo, I have a different perspective. Writing the story from start to finish without editing means truly feeling no attachment to any sentence.

I thought I had a fairly good outline to work from with conflict in every scene, yet as I wrote some scenes fell short. Kate Moses, author of Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath, advises: "Pay attention to your instincts and deep little voices, including the ones that say, "It's wrong!"

Again, I had no time to consider changing those particular scenes. I had to keep writing. Now, I wonder if I’d not had the NaNo time pressure, would I have been stalled by those scenes, unable to resist the urge to fix them. Instead I moved past them and now I have a much broader perspective. There may be no fixing those scenes. They may need to go, and again since I’d not invested much time in them, the cut won’t be painful.

There’s also no denying that I work better with a deadline, and I’m highly motivated once I’ve made a goal public knowledge. I had great support from other NaNo writers, my family and friends. Because of my virtual writing world connections, I was able to connect with writers world wild and it was great fun to spur each other on. Overall, I do reflect positively on NaNo. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but it doesn’t mean we need to go it all alone.



Jimmy Esterhase said...

ah the nano. 1700 words a day, 50,000 in 30 days.
That's a huge accomplishment.

I really enjoyed your article Sharon Clare


Sharon Clare said...

Thanks, Jimmy. As I talk to friends keeping up with Nano, I'm reminded of the intensity of the experience--yes huge accomplishment.

Cindy Carroll said...

Sharon, thank you so much for being with us. I hope to win Nano this year. It is a very intense experience.