Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons Learned from NaNo

Since last year I've thought of myself as a veteran NaNoer. I've been doing it since freshman year of highschool and this is the middle of my senior year. That's four NaNoWriMo's and seven or eight Camp NaNo's, most of which I've won. 

However, with each new year NaNo never fails to teach me something new about my writing, my stories, and most importantly myself. I think this is the reason I love it so much. Win or lose there is so much to be gained from the experience. With that, I give you four lessons I learned this year during NaNo. 

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 

No amount of plotting will prepare you for the story within the story. 

          This was my first year plotting and planning my NaNo novel. I had the works: outlines for the story, chapters,  and scenes. I had plot models, character sketches, and backgrounds. I'd even spent two weeks creating a detailed 20 year timeline for my futuristic global government. There were pages upon pages of government proceedings, military branches, everything you could think of. I even mapped out the voting process of how government officials came into power. 
I bought into the lie that plotting make things "easy" because about two weeks into NaNo I hit a brick wall that lasted until the end of NaNo. All the character interviews and chats in the world couldn't prepare me for the twists they constantly threw at me every single day. 

The truth is writing- good writing- is never easy. All the plotting in the world can't prepare you for the unexpected and wonderful surprises that crop up when you're pouring your heart into your plot and characters. As every story develops on the page there is a story within the story, and that is something you can never put in a chart or outline. It is the thrill of writing; it is what makes your story special. 

You can't compare your first draft to someone's second draft.

This year I had the opportunity to write with many wonderfully accomplished writers that I greatly admire and respect. Still, I couldn't help but compare my horribly tangled story to their stunningly woven tales. About halfway through NaNo I was editing a chapter of my story (a big no-no for NaNo) and all I could think was "this looks like baby babble compared to what they write." It wasn't just discouraging, but it also made me wonder if I was really cut out to be a writer. My story didn't feel 'together' or 'magnificent'. 

Then I realized that they had been working on their stories for months, if not years. The stories I had been reading were second drafts, third drafts, sometimes even the finished product. I was comparing something that had been in the works for two weeks to something that had been picked over, re-worked, and polished. 

The think is, every first draft needs work. Sure, for some senior writers the first draft might not be as cringe worthy as mine, but there will always be flaws and mistakes. The good thing is that those can be re-worked. You can pick and choose your favorite bits, strengthen the plot, and dig deeper inside the character's head. 

The first draft is about getting those ideas and thoughts on paper. Everything else can come later; and one day after lots of hard work you will be able to look at your finished piece and see how far it has come. 

Everyone has a voice, don't be afraid of yours. 

One of my biggest struggles is accepting that I have my own special voice. Every writer does. Sure, some might be similar, but everyone has something that sets them apart in the world of words. That's one of the special things about being a writer. 

Only I find myself looking at these successful writers and I start thinking, "I wish I sounded like them. They're so talented, their stories are so good, why can't I write like them?" 

Toward the end of NaNo a friend commented on my voice, telling me she hadn't heard anything like it before. My first reaction was "this is horrible, I don't sound like them." I was of course referring to the popular story tellers of my favorite genres. But a moment later it was added that my voice was special; that I had a way of brining across simple scenes that dealt with complex issues. 

I had been so focused on other author's voices that I hadn't stopped to consider the merits of my own voice. Think about it, wouldn't the world of books be boring if everyone wrote the same? What if the writers world was full of only Charles Dickens write-alikes? There would be a lot of people not reading. (Actually I really love Dickens...but that's beside the point.) 

The point is that everyone was gifted with their own special voice. Don't be afraid to embrace it because that voice is what makes you unique. It is what makes you stand out in a sea of other authors. It is what defines your ideas and your stories. It deserves to be loved.  

Sharing your work won't kill you.

Eyes? Human eyes reading over my work? Excuse me while I cower in the corner with my manuscript. Really though, to some this might seem like a silly fear, but it is perfectly logical. You've poured your heart and soul into that story. You've lost sleep, rode the emotional roller-coaster, labored over the perfect sentence, and cried with the effort of finding that one elusive word that will (hopefully) complete the chapter. 

It's hard work, but most of all it's your work. Why on earth would you hand it over to the critical eye of others? Even worse, why would you allow another writer to even take a quick peak at the front cover? Just thinking about it makes me want to grab my binders and run. 

This NaNo that is exactly what I did, but as I ran I also tossed out sentences, scenes, and even complete chapters to be picked up by those chasing me from behind. Funny thing is, once I stopped running and let my racing heart slow nothing came to kill me. I shared some of my work and I didn't die. Best of all those who had read my words weren't trying to gouge out their eyes or erase their memories. Alright, that might be a bit over dramatic, but still completely reasonable. 

Actually, it turns out that my critics wanted more. I went from barely being able to let go of mere sentences to passing around series of chapters. I still cringe inwardly as I hit 'send', but the end results are worth it. Critiques aren't always the horrid monsters your mind makes them out to be. On the other hand they're typically very encouraging and constructive. And trust me there's no better feeling than having someone beg to read more. 

Well there you have it: the top four lessons learned from NaNoWriMo 2013. I learned other things too. For instance my writing makes NO sense when I'm going off of two hours of sleep. You can also drink more than eight cups of tea in one day...although that does become an expensive habit. Also parents typically aren't amused when they find you've been up till four in the morning working on a scene. They're also not amused after sitting outside the library for several hours waiting for you to finish your write-in...apparently writers cannot tell time. They still love me anyways. 

What are some special lessons you learned this year from NaNo?  

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