Ok, David again with an update. As you can see from the nifty picture on the left over there, I actually made it across the finish line, clocking in at 50,307 words on Saturday, November 28th. Yep, two days early. And Rabia wants me to write up another post with my thoughts, now that I’ve actually finished (the month, not the novel; that’s still only about half done). So here we go.
Probably the most important thing I realized through this month, without which I don’t think I would have been able to make it: Don’t sweat the stuff. Normally, you hear people saying not to sweat the small stuff, or whatever, but really, it goes deeper than that. When you’re trying to do something like write a first draft of a novel (regardless of how much time you’re giving yourself), don’t worry about any of the details, whether they’re small or freakin’ huge. On the last night, I found that I need to go back and change what happens in the beginning of the novel to start all the action, but that’s ok. I put a note in to get to it during re-write, and went on. Is it a significant change? Well, yeah, it will be. But should it stop me from keeping the story moving forward? Heck no.
On a similar note, always remember that everything’s negotiable. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it canon (until you’re published, at least, and perhaps not even then; I’ve seen several books where glaring errors were fixed in a second or third printing).This is an important point for me, because I tend to focus on the details, and could spend an entire evening trying to get a few perfect. Especially names. Names are not easy for me, and I’d love to take tons of time to come up with great names. But whenever I found myself falling into that trap, I reminded myself of one amazing fact: Frodo Baggins was originally written as Bingo. Seriously.
Another point: make a reference that you can access and update quickly and easily. For some, that’s scribbling things down in a notebook, but I find that gets disorganized very quickly (or else I spend too much time trying to decide how much space to leave for lists of characters; see above). For my NaNo novel, I created an excel spreadsheet to track characters, places, and horses (yes, they’re that important); I later added another sheet when I decided I needed it. A word document would also work. It doesn’t need to be fancy; here’s a sample of what I’ve got:
|First Name||Last Name||Residence||Role||Alt. Name||Notes|
|Arnor||Jardin||Stonehaven||Assistant horse farmer||Arnor Gerin/Jalell Thorsa||MC. Please don’t forget him. Born 817 AA.|
|Lirelai||Lesser Forestal||Riell’s second sister, tended Arnor after Tam’s accident.|
As you can see, it’s got holes in it, and I’m ok with that. Its role is to help me keep track of what I’ve already talked about, without having to scan through everything I’ve written so far. I found it to be amazingly helpful.
This next point is something that everyone says in relation to NaNo, but it’s true, and holds for a lot of other stuff as well: make yourself write, even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re convinced that what you’re going to be putting down on the page is going to suck. It might. But it might also turn out to include some really good ideas. If you let yourself slack off too long, it’s really easy to let it become a habit. I haven’t worked on Storm Rider since Saturday; I’m going to be back at it tomorrow. (Rabia, hold me accountable on that!)
And speaking of Rabia: as I said in my previous post, having a good sounding board is an amazing tool. I’d talk to Rabia about what was happening in my story, and she’d ask questions, some of which I couldn’t answer…but which I was generally able to answer by the next day. And some of her random suggestions (such as having the main character hit someone in the head with a rock) found their way into the story, though not always in the form she’d suggested (in this case, a different person got struck).
Finally, I always thought it was really weird when Rabia would talk about (or quote other writers saying things like) characters doing or saying unexpected things. I mean, it’s your story; surely you’re not writing anything you haven’t come up with. But then I found strange things happening in my story. Conversations that I had planned out would develop very different undertones as I wrote them, revealing (to me!) aspects of the characters’ relationships with each other that I’d never even considered. Or I’d be writing exposition (everything’s fair in a first draft, including pages of exposition!), and strange, new details would work their way in, and I’d have to stop to consider how the new details could impact the rest of the story. Rabia was very amused whenever I stopped to stare at my fingers in amazement at what had just appeared from them. But the weirdest part for me was that whenever this happened–whenever my subconscious slipped extra details onto the page–I liked it. I mean, it was much, much better than anything I had planned. Weird, cool, freaky, and amazing all at the same time.
So, I’ve survived the insane month-long challenge of NaNo, and now have about half of a novel written; I’m giving myself until the end of January to get the rough draft done. What bouts of insanity have you allowed yourself recently?
Admin: Woohoo! I’m so excited about David’s win and pleased to see him finally following in my literary footsteps (hee!). Thanks for sharing about your experience.