National Novel Writing Month has come and gone. Well, today is the last day, so it’s not really gone yet, but I finished yesterday, so it’s over for me. I did better this year than I ever have, not just in terms of actually finishing for the first time in years but in learning more about what works for me and what doesn’t when it comes to sitting my tush down to write fiction and learning more about letting my own voice come out in my writing. Here are some notes, in no particular order, on what I learned about my process and techniques.
- I simply cannot write every day. Not in the low-pressure days outside of NaNoWriMo and not during the high-pressure frenzy of trying to write a short novel in a month. I wrote more days than I didn’t, but I thought about my NaNoWriMo project every day (an important part of the writing process), I made notes almost every day (a more important part of the writing process), and when it came to actually writing words on a page (a much more important part of the writing process), I could write around 300-800 words on a bad day and up to 3,000-plus words on a good day. I think I could probably kick that 3,000 words up even more if I set my mind to it.
- Writing in coffee shops is much better for my productivity than writing at home. Writing at write-ins with other writers is even better for my productivity. Writing is generally a solitary pursuit, but I’m not a solitary person. Being around other people, especially when those other people are also writing, with breaks for conversation and goofing around, makes me a more productive writer.
- In the past, the writing I’ve done during NaNoWriMo was done with a particular audience in mind. This year, I wrote to myself, telling myself the story. And I found that I liked the way my writing voice sounded when I did that. I didn’t worry that my writing seemed professional, instead being amused and entertained with the more relaxed tone I took as a narrator. It felt like I became a character in the story, which is how I think it should be (at least with my writing–no judgment on your writing). It was also more fun creating my characters and setting when I was making it up by telling myself about them.
- Other techniques that helped me find my voice and working process better: surrealist stream of consciousness (which often started as me just writing whatever words and images were in my head, but would eventually turn into a scene with characters, conflict, drama), copying and pasting (“sampling”) pieces of public domain prose (especially fairy tales) and rewriting it to fit in with my characters and setting (which probably ended up being more work than if I just wrote directly, especially since what I sampled was generally written in past tense while I write in present tense, but this technique really helped me find my own voice and style)(this was inspired, by the way, by this piece about how the Mekons write their songs), and cutting up and remixing my own prose with lyrics from songs I love (an idea taken from Jeff Noon’s “Remixing Narrative” technique) (although I didn’t take the process to the end result that Noon writes about, deciding that I would do that when I rewrite this for the next draft).
- What I’ve ended up with isn’t anything like a novel at all. It’s a collection of flashfic, vignettes, assorted prose-poems, random scenes, and the aforementioned cut-ups (see the two fragments I posted to get an idea of the more typical story-ish bits I ended up with). I very much want to write a second draft, but there’s also no way I can make this more novel-y without other people: critique partners (which I currently don’t have), beta readers (ditto), and an editor (ditto ditto). I prefer collaboration to solo work, and like I said, I’m not a solitary person, so this is a good thing for me.
- The Most Important Thing I Learned: everything I did this month reinvigorated my love of writing fiction and boosted my confidence in my ability to write good prose and to, as Chuck Wendig would say, finish my shit. I am now doing a triumphant and exuberant, booty-shaking dance in celebration of this.
My next step is to leave what I’ve written alone for a bit. I need to recharge my writing batteries by reading more fiction and watching more TV and movies for a bit, as well as doing more non-fiction research. I’ll keep writing poetry, and maybe some independent flashfic, but I need to let this project sit and simmer. I intend to come back to it in a couple of months to write the next draft, see what comes from that. And then…I’m not really sure yet.
But one way or another, this month has been a terrific adventure, and I’ve come back with some real treasure.