Top things I've learned from NaNoWriMo 2013

I started writing my second NaNoWriMo novel this year and I learned a good deal from the experience, even more than last year, my first winning year. The main difference for me was that I finally relaxed and knew I would be able to do it so I was able to pay more attention to the details of the process.

Without further ado, here is what I have learned from the experience.

Editing is the beauty of writing

I realized, very harshly, that most of the beauty that will come from my writing is the editing. That's right. I spent all this time writing this novel, getting my 50K (and more) but all I end up with is RAW MATERIAL.

That's what I was surprised to see. It's as if I've just cut down a tree, cut off the branches, hauled it to my garage and I'm ready to cut a canoe or something out of it.

But it makes sense, right? Writing out my ideas and plots allowed me to get as detailed as possible without bogging myself down endlessly. I have major scenes, ideas set in stone, a plot line, and everything else.

Now I'm ready to cut, hew, and whatever else

After writing one, all the others are easy (read: fast)

I remember when I wrote my first novel. It took me several years. I waded through the experience, and it became a part of "growing up" for me. It took that long and two more years to fully edit it.

So what about the second novel? It was my first NaNo, month. Plus about 15K words on top of that which took another month. What about my third? One month, this year's NaNo.

Editing is the same way, I've gotten into more of a rhythm. I found a better way of approaching my writing. My first piece got edited line by line. My second? I'm in the process of reviewing the plotlines, scenes, etc. basically from birds-eye view instead.

Figuring out my "plotting technique"

I've heard that some people are "gardeners" that pour the soil of writing in, plant the seeds, weed the gardens, and figure everything out as they go while others are "architects" that plan out elaborate plans, calculate the math, and then start building.

I always thought I was the latter, creating large wikis, 3D modeling ideas, drawing characters, writing tangent short-stories, and so on. I wrote out a long elaborate, beautiful plot last year and when I got to writing, I had to abandon everything 15K words in. I was bored. I could not stand it. I felt like I was getting from one point to another, had to keep checking my notes and basically, it was more of a "research paper" than a novel.

This year, I did the opposite, just to test my theory. I had some vague ideas of what I wanted to write, a little bit about the character (wrote a couple of intros just to get a feel) and then I got started, not knowing what the next chapter would build. And I was much more satisfied with the end result than before.

Am I going to abandon my wikis, models, characters, and short-stories? No. This is for editing. I'll align "canon" so to speak, make adjustments and changes, but guess what? The main part is done!

Characters start somewhere, end elsewhere

I learned this last year as well but it was very pronounced in the book I wrote this year. My character started as a sceptic of law, and with hope for civilization to grow well and peacefully but ended on the note of self-reliance, lawlessness and so on.

It was not planned either. It just happened, with the story. I imagined, "How will my character respond to this situation?" and the character responded, building on themselves, changing, become more thought-out than before.

One instinct I used to have was to go back in the book, re-edit it, make the character stick to their guns so to speak. Either remove the situations or write the character as their ending selves from the getgo. I realized that was wrong.

Instead, during my editing, I will be focusing on emphasizing the changes, making them more dramatic. Because just like people, the characters grow with time. They're not born into a role.

It's never only about Quantity

One thing that always made it to forums is the idea that NaNo is all about "quantity", well it's not. And it never will be. The thing is, you have to find a good balance. If I wrote only for quantity, I could churn out 100K words but I don't. I keep up my pace and work with the best quality, the best imagery, and the best detailed work so that my editing phase is not absolute and total hell.

Alright, editing aside, you should always strive to write the best work you can without getting bogged down. If you have the steam, go, do well. If writing well slows you down, then I guess skip that step but honestly, for me, thinking about how to best write something does not slow me down.

Productivity techniques are crap

The only productivity technique you need is keeping up that ~1700 word/day pace, that's it. I don't put on my special shoes, or turn on Pomodoro, or use a special notebook, or even use a distraction-free editor. I just do it.

It may not work the best but this is what I learned about myself. I used MS Word last year, both the desktop application and the SkyDrive implementation (when I was away from my home laptop). It worked REALLY well. I used Scrivener this year, and it worked well. Both of them in their default mode.

I did not "clear" everything off my desktop either time, or found a silent spot at home/office or whatever. I just sat where I usually work at the office, and during lunchtime, fired up Scrivener and wrote. Nothing else about it

However Word Sprints work

Doing word sprints however work really well for me and from what I've heard, for others as well. The idea of a word sprint or word war is to compete with someone else on words. Word sprints/wars/counters often work like so:

  • get on the forum, someone posts the last 3 digits of their word count
  • write that amount of words and post "taking [3 digits from the last poster], leaving [my 3 digits]"

I always feel like I'm working with someone else so that helps encouraging me. There are others of course:

  • last poster will post a counter, "15 mins starting at [time]"
  • start writing for 15 minutes at that point
  • post your results along with others.

Again, you work with others. Word wars often work this way. Sprints help as well, they work on the same concept as NaNo: working with others under a strict deadline to finish quickly.