I guess I’ll just put this here:
Yay! I did it!
It’s actually been about a week since I crossed the 50,000 word milestone with the novel Synthetic Dreams. I was hoping I’d finish the entire first draft before the end of the month, but I petered out last week. By Thanksgiving, I needed to basically stop doing anything for a while. This whole long weekend, I didn’t write, program, leave the house, or do anything that could in any way be described as “constructive.” I did laundry yesterday. That was the extent of my productivity.
We need to take breaks every once in a while, and my need crept up out of nowhere. Now it’s Monday. I’m writing this post during my lunch break at work. A few minutes ago, JPL landed a drill-bot on Mars and at the moment, I’m more excited about that little victory than anything else.
This is my last check-in for NaNo and I’m glad to report I now have a non-losing record. 3 out of 6 of my NaNo attempts have ended in a success. Not too shabby.
I have a lot of friends that set out on this NaNoWriMo journey with me, and they aren’t going to hit 50,000 words by the month’s end. For them, and for my future self, I want to take a moment to talk about what it really means to succeed at NaNoWriMo.
First of all, let’s keep it real. I’m not going to try and cheer you up with a “participation is the REAL winning” kind of speech. That’s not what this is about.
NaNoWriMo is purely about adding one more motivator to your writing engine. That’s all it is. You’re a writer 12 months out of the year and not just November. 50,000 words is an arbitrary goal during an arbitrary month. It isn’t real and it doesn’t mean you’re not a real writer if you’re not hitting the 50k goal.
Necessity breeds creativity, and deadlines create both necessity and motivation. When November started, we set for ourselves a deadline. Write so many words in 30 days. By framing the writing journey in such a way, we’re activating parts of our brain that we may not otherwise employ when sitting down to write a story.
There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a good way to boost productivity.
Then there’s the competitive part of the experience. When you’re comparing your word counts to those of your writing buddies, there is a part of you that is cheering them on. There is also a part of you that really wants to win. To get to 50,000 words first. That’s another part of your brain that isn’t usually used during the writing process. While “winning” may not be the most noble of motivators, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about digging deep and getting creative. The more of your brain you bring to the keyboard, the better.
If you wrote this month, you won. The prize is your collection of words, which hopefully resembles a story. The quality of the prize is directly proportional to the length and readability of the story you’ve created. If you vomited 100,000 words into Word and it’s incomprehensible… well, that’s your prize. If you crafted 10,000 words over the course of thirty days, but it’s exemplary writing… that’s your prize, too.
I reached 50,000 words in Synthetic Dreams and I felt great about it for a few minutes, but I’m not really ready to celebrate because the story isn’t finished. I’m in the middle and that’s a treacherous place where slumps happen and plot threads unravel. I love my characters, the premise, the world building, the ideas of the story… but what I’ve written is going to need a lot of editing. There’s a great story here, but it’s not leaping from my head fully formed like Athena. My story is an ugly duckling that’s going to need a lot of time and effort.
I’m going to keep going on this story. I’m going to try and get the first draft finished before the end of the year, but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Looking at my outline, I can safely say the end is still another 40,000 words away. Once I get the first draft finished, I’ll check what’s next in my queue.
Tying back to NaNoWrMo, the next novel I’m probably going to write is a fantasy. It’s basically The Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones. It was the novel I attempted my very first NaNoWriMo. I wrote about 10,000 words that November, then another 20,000 words before I abandoned it to work on The Repossessed Ghost. I still like the concept and the characters I created. I haven’t given up on the idea. I just needed to grow as a writer before I could do that story justice. So, taking what I’ve learned over the last 3 or 4 stories, I’m going to write A Clean Slate and it’s going to be great. It won’t be an official NaNoWriMo winner, but it will be a winner to me.
Whether you wrote 50,000 words or not this month, you still have a prize. Enjoy it! But also remember that it’s not done. No one wants to read your unedited first draft. The first draft is like a pencil sketch. You still need to go through and do the inking and coloring, shading and texturing.
A first draft is an important beginning and worthy of being celebrated, but switching from art metaphors to cooking, it’s not done yet. It needs to cook more. Don’t serve your guests something raw.
If you’re a writer, I hope you’ve had tremendous success this month! And if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ve at least done something creative that’s made you happy.