What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo 2009

2009 marks my seventh year attempting National Novel Writing Month. This was the first time in a couple of years that I was really excited about participating. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had just lost all of my writing notes in a hard drive meltdown. My job has become so stressful that imagining anything has become utterly impossible. Participating seemed both right and insane.

After several people told me that my life would make for an interesting read, I thought about writing a therapeutic fiction. I’ve never really thought about writing as therapy, but there is a lot in my head that needs to be worked out. It seemed reasonable that I could create this fictional setting where fictional characters, each wrestling with one of my problems, could experiment with possible solutions. I became even more excited to start NaNoWriMo.

I even got off to a good start, but then something happened. In trying to develop these troubled characters, I learned something about myself. I’m a poor candidate for the “write what you know” camp. The closer I got to each character, the more slowly I started writing until I finally just stopped opening the file altogether. When I’d finally re-open the file, I’d take characters as far away from their original intention as I could.

Keep in mind, I struggle with character development already.

In an attempt to keep the word count climbing, I tried to give in to the change in characters. Soon enough, though, I found myself fighting the storyline in my head. I couldn’t break from the story I was trying to tell, and I needed this first draft to have as few storytelling issues as possible to balance out the insanity that had become my characters.

For a while, I thought maybe I was just digging in my heels and trying to avoid my NaNovel, but I’ve been revising an older NaNovel (re-writing it, really) this month as well. While it seems more free from the character development issues that plague my fiction, it only highlighted the need to keep a logical story flow going in my rough draft. The first draft is about getting it down, and a re-write is effectively a first draft, just with more guidance. Neither is the right place to worry about whether or not a character did what you claim they did. That’s what revising is for.

Right now, the NaNovel has 13,000-14,000 words on it with no hope of being completed on time. The rewrite has three chapters left to go, and will more than likely be finished some time this weekend. Hopefully somewhere in the next couple of days, I’ll figure out how to mediate my issues with character development and logical story flow in the first draft.

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