Just over a month of recovery has transpired since my NaNoWriMo burnout. Like a Roman candle, the concentrated spew of writing was glorious, dazzling my eyes with a populated computer screen after a long stretch of spark-less procrastination. And then November ended and fffffzzztt. So did the writing. For the most part. Just like legs need a rest after a marathon, I needed to retrieve my eyeballs and fingers from where they’d fallen off onto the keyboard and step away from that project for a bit.
In the meantime, I’ve been tweaking my first manuscript and rewriting query letters over and over again to get ready for a much-delayed round of submission. I also headed Stateside for another two weeks for Christmas, which was crazy-busy but magical, just like the Disney trip before that. 🙂 Anyway, I’d promised to follow up on my NaNoWriMo experience, so let’s get on with it.
Writing 50,000 words in one month is a concept that makes folks wary, and understandably—for years I assumed it could only generate pure and utter crap; good writing is not to be rushed. But now having gone through it, there’s no question it was a useful exercise that I highly recommend, and here are some reasons why:
1. NaNoWriMo was like a writing enema. I’d been stopped up for a while in that respect, sitting on a story outline I’d completed in spring only to sputter out one chapter in summer and jack until November. It was shit-or-get-off-the-pot time, and NaNoWriMo was precisely the initiative I needed. So, to run with my disgusting metaphor, even if a lot of my massive brain-dump was crap, it was purifying to get it out of me. I did have an outline to keep me focused, but I think if you’re still in novel-brainstorming mode, it’s a perfect way to write your way into a storyline to run with beyond NaNoWriMo.
2. NaNoWriMo gave me discipline. For as much as I’ve preached on this blog that writing is a discipline, I still tend to fall in with the “I write when I feel like it” crowd. It’s incredibly difficult for me to establish routine in my writing, so having that NaNoWriMo goal was such a motivating force. Not only did my profile stats continually calculate how many words I had to average per day based on my actual pace, but punching in my new word counts and watching those bars climb on the chart was immensely satisfying. It pushed me each day to stick to a daily word goal and punch out a few more sentences just when I thought I had no words left in me. Contrary to such doubt, there’s always more waiting in the folds of our grey matter.
3. NaNoWriMo pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s obviously no hard-and-fast “right” way to write. Some writers vomit out their stories first and revise later, and others revise as they write. I trend toward the latter category. It has merit, but I found it worthwhile to try a new approach, and the result broke some bad habits I’d naturally fallen into. One of the major flaws of my first manuscript was that its early drafts were overwritten. I pored way too much over every word and sentence and stopped writing new material in favor of revising finished chapters to death first. The writing needed to relax, and, what’s more, I hadn’t mapped out that entire story yet. To so painstakingly revise early chapters when I still had no idea where the later chapters were going was just stupid. It was only when I’d finished drafting the entire story that I realized what needed to change at the beginning to improve consistency. So, not only did I outline my second manuscript beforehand this time around, but NaNoWriMo forced me to keep driving this story forward and not complicate phrasing through over-thinking it—there simply wasn’t the time to. It’s not as though I had no opportunity for some thoughtful wordsmithing, logically thinking through plotting, or researching to enrich descriptive detail and authenticity. I simply mean that, overall, I had to write more off-the-cuff and to-the-point than I’m used to, a risk my writing in particular really needed to take.
4. NaNoWriMo powerfully immersed me in my storyworld. Curling up with a single story for so many hours of the day every day was the deepest sea-diving into my imagination I’d ever done. I was truly married to my characters, setting, and situations at that point; the level of commitment was tremendous when I promised to come back to them every day, and the short gaps between bouts of writing ensured I never really loved ’em and left ’em. It’s essential to at some point step away from a story and come back to it with fresher eyes (as I’m doing right now), but the benefits of sticking with it for better or worse in November included seeing my storyworld more vividly and improving its continuity—I remembered details more clearly and strung them together more efficiently since they were written only a matter of hours/days apart from each other.
5. NaNoWriMo was P90X for my brain. In view of all the aforementioned, my mind clearly got warmed up and broke a sweat trying to keep pace with my required daily average word count (~2,700/day thanks to my late start). The mind is a muscle, after all, and it needs to be flexed in order to grow. Pushing yourself to go as far as you can one day will strengthen you to do the same if not more the next. And haven’t you found that the more you exercise, the more you want to? In the same way, NaNoWriMo energized me to the point where I wasn’t writing because I had to. I wanted to. I honestly woke up every morning excited to get back to my computer to research and write.
Granted, there’s no way I could’ve sustained the intensity of NaNoWriMo beyond that month, but I do think the lessons it taught can be applied in realistic doses going forward on my project. I went into it with 10,000 words, came out with 60,000, and estimate I have about 15,000-20,000 more words to go until my first draft is finished. There’s no question I’ll have to revise the hell out of it, but I definitely don’t discount the earnest progress I initially made on it in a very, very concentrated amount of time—I think (*hope*) going into NaNoWriMo with an advance, focused vision of my story optimized how many of those 50,000 words actually have a shot at remaining in the final draft…the major ideas at the very least. I tried my best to work smarter, not harder, so we’ll see one day what I have to show for it. 🙂
January 9th, 2012 at 17:59
I’ve heard people talk of this every year since I started this blogging business, but I’ve never managed to push myself into joining in. I just can’t face doing so much in one block – only to have to virtually start all over again once you have finished the month! Hard. You actual writers get nothing for free – you earn it, many many times over. go for it
January 11th, 2012 at 15:40
Ugh, when you put it that way, Glen, writing does sound like a masochistic enterprise. 🙂 And, hey, I hope you’re including yourself in the “actual writers” category because I think you’re far more devoted to writing consistently than I am!
January 9th, 2012 at 18:12
The monkey’s back! I’m sure you’ll have PLENTY to show for it (the worst stuff we write is always better than the best stuff we don’t), and the post-NaNo burnout is totally understandable. I felt the same way after Write1Sub1’s final week. (The good news: we’re back at it this year, but I’m going for monthly instead of weekly.) Massive kudos to you for your NaNo WIN!
January 11th, 2012 at 15:41
“the worst stuff we write is always better than the best stuff we don’t”
– Ah, that’s a pearl, Milo; thank you for the motivation! And congrats on completing Year 1 of Write1Sub1!!! I obviously petered out rather quickly…but YOU have gobs to show for your efforts, so well done, writer!
January 10th, 2012 at 12:56
I admire anyone who can get through NaNo – or even start it!
January 11th, 2012 at 15:43
Thanks so much, Talli! 2011 was a relatively lazy writing year until then, so it did me some good. 🙂 Happy 2012 to you, too! So awesome to see your list of published works grow – you impress me, girl.
January 10th, 2012 at 16:58
Sounds like this was a positive experience for you, all around.
In my opinion, all writing is crap. A first. There’s the rare piece your brain vomits out (yo dawg, I heard you liked gross-out metaphors) straight onto paper in perfect form, devoid of confusion, typo, and mistake, but mostly, writing has more in common with topiary than gardening. . . An idea is a beautiful tree that grows in the fertile soils of your mind, and has a life of its own, but the actual writing part is more about cutting away all the branches that shouldn’t be there until it takes the shape you want (giraffe, car, naked lady, whatever). It’s ugly, and it makes your idea-tree cry, but it’s gotta be done.
January 11th, 2012 at 15:44
Connor, you have chosen a much lovelier metaphor than what I provided you – thanks for that. 🙂 Really, though, that’s the perfect way to view writing, and you articulated it so beautifully!
January 11th, 2012 at 13:17
Aaaah, so good to see you back – I missed you! And then so productive, that is very impressive. Congratulations, am sure many, many participants never make it that far. So happy you keep your eyes at the ball rather than only on blog posts (not helping myself there but still!)
And loved the insights you gave. Am currently on a quite rigid writing structure too and it works quite well. A bit of spanking and strictness can only do a writer well 😉 …. eh at least if they are anything like me. 🙂
January 11th, 2012 at 15:46
Feels good to be back – I missed you, too! Good to hear that the rigid structure is working out for you as well. It’s ridiculous how fast I fell out of it, but I’m hoping to establish some new routine for 2012. Write on!
January 12th, 2012 at 22:50
Yo, Monkey! So many authors who start NaNo on Nov. 1 don’t complete the task so it’s an amazing feat that you finished even w/ your late start. I never seriously considered doing it until I heard you espousing its virtues. I love the permission NaNo gives writers to give their focus the story.
What’s really awesome about it though are the new techniques you’ve learned that will benefit you far beyond 11/11.
On a side note, a certain 15 year old American girl applied for her passport yesterday…soooo exciiiited…
January 19th, 2012 at 12:57
Oh my gosh, that news is thrilling!!! She’ll be the youngest in our family to travel overseas – what an amazing experience you’re giving her!
January 14th, 2012 at 02:49
I’m so full of admiration for the NaNoWriMo folk. One year I might just join in the fun.
January 19th, 2012 at 12:59
I think you’d get a kick out of it. Whether it’s for serious or silly writing purposes, the camaraderie of it generates a buzz in the air. 🙂
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