Things You Learn While Writing

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May first has come, which means the first round of Camp NaNoWriMo is done.

And let me tell you, there were a lot of asses being kicked this past month. Mostly my own, as it was the one that needed kicking. But as a direct result, I also happened to kick ass in NaNoWriMo terms as well.

I didn’t win, I will get that out there first thing. I started with a 50,000 word goal and moved down to a 30,000 word goal after the first week. And as of ten last night, I finished less than 3,000 words shy of my last goal.

While I don’t pretend that 27,000 words is a big deal compared to those few who not only crush the traditional 50,000 words but make it to 100,000 even. The thing is, it is a big deal for me. Refer back to NaNoWriMo 2012 for a true scope of what I have accomplished.

Now that I have beaten my all-time best record for thirty days of writing by several thousand words, I feel like I have a little bit more to say on the subject of being an author. And this is what I have learned in the last thirty days.

1.
You don’t know your story until you write it.

I’m putting this one first because it’s not something I see discussed a lot when it comes to writing. But it is the absolute truth.

I have been developing this story for ages, and I could easily fill a four-drawer filing cabinet with all the scraps of plot and character notes I’ve written since the stories inception over twenty years ago. But even with all that background on paper and in my head, nearly every scene I write teaches me more about the story and my characters that I feel I should have known all along.

I brought myself to tears this month as I discovered that the reason my main female character has a strong connection to kids is because she suffered a miscarriage years before we meet her in the timeline. And it wasn’t just a plot device, it was real and true to her character and fit her actions perfectly.

2.
Follow the chain, it will lead you home.

When it comes to novel writing you will never see where you are going, that is just a fact you will have to accept right now. You can plot every move out to the last nose twitch, but once you’re in the world and watching your characters interact with it, you’ll become lost in the minutiae.

But that’s okay. Just follow it. If there is a butterfly flying around in their face, let them follow it until they get lost in the woods. If they see a shiny ring on the ground, let them pick it up.

The hardest part for me this month was finishing a scene and trying to keep the story thread after. But if you take some tiny thing and let the scene grow, you’ll find out that your main character has a sister figure with two daughters to welcome her home. Which in turn leads you to their backstory, and why the second newborn daughter is such a surprise.

3.
You need to keep going.

It may feel like hell for you get even three hundred words down on the page, but get them down. Sometimes it will get you started enough so you connect to the thread and find the power to keep going.

Other times you will feel like shit and want to throw up once you hit the wall. But in any case you’ll have three hundred less words to write the next day. So get them down, whatever you have in you, and be grateful.

4.
Take it easy.

There will be days where you have nothing left, and as much as you want to fly on the page like you did yesterday, your head can barely stand the sight of blankness and you still have to muster enough energy for your eight hour ‘real job’ that comes after.

So, yeah I did say to keep going. But at the same time, you need to learn your internal cues enough to know when you’ve had it. Because you will want to destroy your work and the whole world at once, and nothing good can come of it.

So when the day comes where the bed is too comfy, and a mindless marathon of Gilmore Girls soothes the burning in your soul, take it. Put down the laptop, or pen and paper, then just vegetate and recoup. Let the story stew inside until you hit some spark that will start you up again.

But again, know yourself enough to realize when you are recouping and when you are being lazy and need a kick in the ass. Balance in all things. You need to at least give the story a good solid chance every day before you get lost in the frustration of Lorelai once again complicating things by not telling her mother some simple fact.

5.
Dignity be damned.

Nothing has taught me how little I know about the English language than the stupid red squiggle lines that my word processor loves to brandish my novel in progress with. Like angry little scratches that I desperately want to itch.

So believe me, I get the temptation to edit as you go. Especially when you misspelled one of those super easy common words that you should know how to spell from basic middle school language arts classes, but that one your brain refuses to let stick.  (FYI: I misspelled misspelled, as a reference.)

But you must resist. This is a rough draft, and no one but you will see it. And if you die and leave it for your family to find after the fact, you’ll be dead so what do you care? You can always edit a rough draft, but you cannot edit a blank page.

And if the scene you’re writing is too stupid or doesn’t fit, keep writing it anyway. I found out about the miscarriage in a bland monologue of backstory which I have every intention of cutting or rewriting once I finish this draft. No word you write is useless, so keep writing them.

6.
Chronological Order Be Damned Too!

The biggest success for me was fueled by the fact that I allowed myself to write out of sync. My story is in essence two parts divided by the viewpoints of my two main characters. And when I lost interest in one, I spent some time with the other, and vice versa.

This not only allowed me to pad my word count because I was writing where my heart was, it let me explore characters outside of one stagnant setting to develop them which would, in turn, allow me to better understand and fill in the areas that were so dull before. Which really saved my story this month.

It is a tough change to make, as we were all raised to write beginning middle and ends, and were trained on the whole story arch and such rot. But the way I see it, all of that is for the first round of edits. Where I can take all the scenes as I have written them so far, lay them in order and fill in or subtract as I need.

And that is just what I have learned in only 27,000 words. I can only imagine what I’ll learn after finishing the groundwork for my first draft. Let alone when I actually begin to edit the thing.

In closing, I say just go for it! Keep working towards your goal and take the lessons as they come. And believe me, they will come.  Eventually, you will succeed. And it will feel amazing with each little victory you win over yourself.

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