Post NaNoWriMo: What I Learned from 30 days of Speed Writing

Thirty days of writing on speed. I mean speed writing. Whatever. The goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The end. That is the only goal. The words don’t have to be wonderful. They don’t even have to make sense. You could literally write “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done” and variations thereof, fifty thousand times by November 30th and you, my friend, are a winner.

This is my third year, third attempt, and my first time “winning”. By the by, here’s exactly what it means to win NaNoWriMo- I thought I might get something semi-cool if I crossed the finish line; I wasn’t expecting a medal or money, but I thought it wouldn’t be horrible to get, I don’t know, a free t-shirt, or a coffee mug. A bumper sticker. A pencil? C’mon. Something. Here’s what you get:Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

That’s a cartoon of me slaying the 50k Word Dragon. It’s a badge. Other prizes: you are invited to shop in their merchandise store. You are invited to donate money, which, sure, is probably worth some karma points, if you’re into that thing, as the donations presumably go to funding creative writing programs for “people”. I’m not really sure what this means or who directly benefits from this as I never got past the “give us some money” button. Turns out, I’m not really into karma.

Also, that’s not really a picture of me in the cartoon.

To be fair, I didn’t participate in this challenge for rewards. It’s something that a few of my writer friends get excited about every year, and the excitement can be contagious. The team that runs the NaNoWriMo promotional campaign know their stuff. They do a good job getting would-be participants pumped up and ready for the event. The time was right, my school term was over, and I thought it would be a fun activity to keep my brain busy, because my brain is a lazy asshole that would much rather watch The Walking Dead and cruise Facebook all day. (Speaking of TWD. Beth. Yeah, I know.)

So here’s what I learned.

What Is Good About It:

The Daily Grind: The best thing NaNoWriMo does is reinforce the ass in chair, get ‘er done, chug, chug, do it, do it, work ethic that is necessary to wrestle down that book idea that’s been floating around in your head since you were a college freshman.You won’t complete the challenge unless you spend A. Lot. Of. Time. at your keyboard throwing up words on the screen. Good writers got that way by paying their dues, that is, spending a gazillion hours at their keyboards or typewriters or notebooks, working it out, one word at a time, until they became awesome. NaNo sets you up to instill good writer habits. And at the very least, it gives you the perspective of the time and effort it takes to write a novel.

Limited Time: You have thirty days to get that story out of your head. There is some pressure here, which is good because it forces you to commit. To yourself. You can now see if that story you’ve been thinking about has any legs. Maybe it does, and grows and evolves into everything awesome you hoped it would be. Maybe it doesn’t, and fizzled out after ten pages and was better suited for a short story. But now you know.

Magic: Here’s my favorite thing. Because of the time limit, if I ever got stuck on something, which I did frequently, I had the power of the “Hell with this, I’ll fix it later” button. It is an awesome tool. Too many times, I’ve come across a problem in a story and let myself get sidelined by it. Here, because you only have X many more days to finish the story, you don’t have the luxury to wait and hope it will magically work itself out (and die by writer starvation in the catacombs of your word processor files). This button gives you permission to skip it and move on to the next scene, or another scene that is more manageable.

And just to be clear, there is no magical button. It’s a metaphor, okay?

What I mean is, although this isn’t a new trick, it’s one that I hadn’t taken advantage of before and I found it incredibly helpful to keep the momentum drum banging.

What’s Not So Good About It:

The Writing Sucks: It’s true. The stuff I copied and pasted into the validation machine to “win”, is first draft chum. Writing as fast as I could and not even slowing down to correct misspellings (Can’t stop! Must get to 5,000 words today!) is not going to be anything worth reading. Maybe not even by myself. Going back to revise is going to be like walking into a hoarder’s house. Piles of adjectives, bad grammar, run on sentences, and, what even is this? There is going to be crap everywhere. I will have to be brave and ready to work hard.  So what’s the preferred method? Taking your time to churn out a first draft that is more refined, or fast purging yourself of the story and then going back later? This is the flip side of that magical button. It may be more work to turn a NaNo first draft into anything salvageable.

It’s Easy to Get Behind: This is why I’ve only finished one year out of three. I was behind the suggested progress chart almost the entire time this year too. Stuff happens. Your mentor emails you and tells you that your essay needs to be redone (grrrrr…). Thanksgiving happens. The Walking Dead marathon happens. I spent a handful of 5,000+ word days, typing like mad in the middle of the night trying to catch up. After several missed days, it gets harder and harder and catching up and can seem almost impossible. Then you start feeling like a failure, which is dumb, because you’re not winning anything. Not even a t-shirt. Damn.

So, judging by my list here, I have three good things vs. two sucky things about NaNoWriMo, so I guess it was a mostly good experience. Will I do it again? Probably. In the end, I can’t begrudge something that gets thousands of people around the world “going for it”, writing their book, and seeing what happens. Even if they never read a word of what they wrote ever again, its not a bad thing to give someone a goal and tell them they’re a winner. And I’ll admit, I kind of like the badge up there. I smiled when I saw it. And then I kept clicking around their website to see if that was all I was going to get.

-Avy Packard

What I’m reading now: Scrivener For Dummies (don’t judge me) by Gwen Hernandez

Also, a good read (advent calendar style, which was fun) to get through NaNoWriMo is 30 Days in the Word Mines by Chuck Wendig


About avy packard

I write things and read things and am still searching for the right words to light it all up. View all posts by avy packard

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