Thursday, December 3, 2009

Things I learned while NaNo-ing

I should start by saying that I was impressed by NaNoWriMo. I remember thinking last year that it overlooked the craftsmanship in writing, that nothing mattered but word count.

This year, however, I knew I needed to bite the bullet. The revisions in my novel called for a cut and then the addition of half a novel. I needed to add about 50,000 words, and I'd been putting it off ... or writing 1,000 at a time and then revising and revising.

I love revision. First drafts? Not so much. For me, revision is safe.

Revision is Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.

First drafts are your crazy Aunt May who thinks her blue hair looks natural and makes embarrassing comments when she meets your friends. Aunt May with the really big purse that stopped looking like leather the minute she cut off the price tag- 10 years ago.

Not surprisingly, that was one of the first lessons I learned.

NaNo Lesson #1. I embraced my crazy. I invited Aunt May over for coffee and let her eat cookies till her purple velour pants with the elastic waist grew too tight. NaNo was my chance to experiment. I got to do whatever I wanted, just to see what would happen. Or, as Gail Carson Levine mentioned in her blog*, it was a chance to be extravagant: "See what you can put in that your ideal reader- the one who most gets you, who best loves your mind- will adore."

NaNo Lesson #2. I really can just write. I'm all about the writing ritual and the writing space, and settling down to write thoughtful, insightful prose. NaNo was about butt-in-chair time. Now I realize I don't have any excuse not to write. I just need to do it. Rituals are helpful until they become excuses. My ritual had become an excuse.

NaNo Lesson #3. Middles are so much easier after the end has been written. The Slushies will tell you that I have no trouble revising one chapter (just one!) for weeks till it's just right. I learned that it is so much easier to polish the middle after you've written the end. I cannot tell you how many notes I made to myself about what I needed to do with those middle chapters. I wouldn't have figured that out no matter how much I'd revised them. I wish I had just pressed through to the end and then circled back. I know better now.

So there you have it! I'm not sure if I'll NaNo next year, but it was a great thing to do this year. How 'bout you? What do you think about NaNo? Did you attempt it? Learn anything in the attempt?

*She wasn't talking about NaNo, but that one comment sure shaped how I thought about NaNo.


Davin Malasarn said...

Great post! I think these are very valuable lessons. We all have to embrace the crazy sometimes. Much of how we feel about certain subjects are subconscious, and I think embracing the crazy, even if just temporarily, allows us to access those feelings.

Sarah said...

You summed that up so well, Davin. Thanks!

Jennifer Major said...

I've learned that I need to really commit. And, not host Thanksgiving would help! But, I've never tried writing the ending first. I've heard that advice before but somehow your saying it resonates with me this morning. Thanks!!

Amy Tate said...

Oh my goodness, I can't stop laughing at the picture long enough to focus on your words of wisdom! Great post!

Sarah said...

Oh, Jennifer! Hosting Thanksgiving? Wow! There should be an award for that.

Amy, isn't that a great post? I was trying to find the embodiment of Aunt May and started searches like "crazy old lady". Guess who popped up? : )

Sarah said...

Oh, Jennifer! I forgot to add this:

I'm not sure that I could skip the middle entirely (though skipping parts might help!) my next novel.

I mainly learned that I shouldn't angst over the middle as I have. I'd revise and revise rather than moving on. Best to just zip through it as fast as possible, I think.

If you ever try starting with the ending, let me know! I'd like to know what you thought of the experience.