I wasn't expecting to learn from NaNoWriMo. I had this sort of idea in my head that I already knew everything I needed to know about myself as a writer. Or at least, that one month of flurried writing couldn't possibly teach anything.
I humbly stand corrected.
This month I learned that I cannot write from outlines. I started off bravely on the outline I had written up in September. However about 23K in I realized that the flow was completely off and I was not telling the right story.
This isn't a new phenomena for me. My last novel (the complete one) reached the 80K point before I realized I was telling it wrong and went back to square one. So I'd consider this an improvement.
Finding a beginning is hard. The first chapter, and the first three chapters, are absolutely crucial to get right. I can't really know where the rest of my story is going until I get the first chapter written.
So without disregarding my original work, I simply started a new draft and added the two word counts together. The first draft was simply an adventure in understanding my characters. I learned that my heroine did not have a boyfriend, but rather a brother, that there was a mysterious Trust fund, and that the Vampires were even more complex than I had first envisioned.
However there was a week in there where I wrote almost nothing. By the time I got back to work I was over 10K behind. Getting sick and having the holidays show up didn't make things easier. The last two days of NaNo I had to sit down and write 5K each day.
The first day was pretty miserable. I was stuck in a difficult part of my story that contained a lot of exposition. I was tired. I wasn't terribly inspired. And I was quite determined that I would never commit to doing NaNo again.
However the last day, Tuesday, was pretty cool. My family were all aware by this point of how important this was to me and were supportive and encouraging. Of course it didn't hurt that they all had to be away from home so I had the family room (and the fireplace!) to myself in a quiet house. What a blessing!
But what really made it fun was how I was able to connect with several young ladies and fellow NaNo-ers from the FTN Forum (which I administer). About 5 or 6 of us spent nearly five hours writing together Tuesday afternoon. We'd get done with a word war and then do another, and another... by the end I was so physically fatigued that I pretty much went straight to bed. Who knew that typing at a computer all day next to a fire could wear one out so?
It was worth it though. My book completely took off, my characters revealed new depths about themselves, I found myself writing a whole section in a hospital and I don't actually hate my story, even after forcing myself to write 10K in two days.
I was trying to explain the importance of this whole adventure to my parents at Sunday dinner. Neither of them are fiction writers, so the concept of "having" to write 50,000 words in one month seems a little bizarre to them. However what they do understand (and what I think many non-writers will) is the concept of a Marathon. My parents are runners and have both recently completed marathons (my parents rock). My father came up with the explanation that NaNo is to me what the marathon was to them. It may seem a little (or extremely) odd and silly to those on the outside, but to us doing it, it means everything.
No flashing cameras, no shiny medals, but I have to say it was really cool to see my little progress bar on the NaNo site change to purple with the word "WINNER" emblazoned across it.
Will I do NaNo again? I really have to say that it depends. With some big changes hopefully coming up in my life I foresee not having the time for the next couple of years. However, never say never. I think you may find me indulging in the craziness again at some point.