Post-NaNoWriMo Update: Lessons Learned.

What the hell just happened?  A few days ago I was cruising through November with steady work days and working on Breezeway Blows Town, generally making my word count and billable hours and not being completely absent from my family.  Then December 1 rolls around like a senior partner handing out assignments at 4:45 on Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend and I am crushed with work.  I started this post on Saturday morning, the first time since 11:59pm on November 30 that I’ve had a few minutes to breathe slowly and think about NaNoWriMo 2009.

I’m going to start with some statistics.

  • Word Count, NaNoWriMo 2009: 51,324.
  • Word Count for 2009 as of 10/31/2009 (fiction): 19,533.
  • Word Count for 2009 as of 10/31/2009 (fiction & nonfiction combined): 37,353.
  • Billable hours, 10/2009: 177.
  • Billable hours, 11/2009: 183.
  • Workouts recorded, 10/2009 (running, strength training, taekwondo): 15.
  • Workouts recorded, 11/2009 (running, strength training, taekwondo): 9.
  • Weight gain, 10/25/2009-12/1/2009: 3.2 pounds (apparently, the last time I weighed myself before NaNo was 10/25, but I don’t blame any of the weight gain on Halloween candy eaten before 11/1).

I believe I got less sleep in November than usual, but I stopped keeping track before the month started so I don’t actually know.  There are probably other stats I could try to measure, but these give the flavor.

We interrupt this post to swear quietly and kick the wall. WordPress just logged me out when I tried to save the draft, and I lost about two paragraphs. We now return you to your irregularly scheduled blog post.

The most important thing about NaNoWriMo is that I wrote. I wrote every damn day. Even when I worked 14-15 hours, I did at least a 15 minute Write or Die session and banged out 350-400 words.  Most days, I was anywhere from a few hundred words ahead of goal pace or even a full day’s worth; I think I was only behind on three or four days out of the month, and only once more than a few hundred words behind. I generally wrote about 2000 words a day, but I had several days of more than 3000 words, and on Nov. 28, the day I crossed the 50,000 word mark, I wrote 3900.

In other words, I was consistent. I wrote day in and day out, whether I was energetic or exhausted, inspired or out of sorts, excited, bored, happy, sad, up, down or sideways. I gave up television a couple of years ago; for November, I cut back on screwing around on Twitter and Facebook (I still posted; I just didn’t pay as much attention to your status), and while I managed to keep posting semi-regularly to this blog, you may have noticed that most of my updates were pretty short. I was saving my word count for NaNoWriMo and Breezeway. I also stopped noodling around on the new piano, which I don’t think anybody missed.

I wrote the way I imagine professional novelists write, like it was my job. I wrote like the mortgage depended on it. And it worked. The narrative progressed at a reasonable pace, and the rough outline I hashed out for the first two-thirds of the story in October helped.  Only three of the 36 scenes I’ve written so far match up with the outline, but they essentially run parallel to it, so I still have a good idea where I’m going without being locked into anything.

If it hadn’t been for NaNoWriMo, I would probably have finished 2009 feeling like it had been a nearly wasted year when it came to writing fiction. I got around 14,000 words into Project Hometown and started a short story that seemed like a good idea when I started but 5800 words in turned into a joyless timesuck, and spent my summer on a non-fiction project that was satisfying and and actually, you know, published, but it meant that I didn’t write any fiction at all for the entire season. Now, no matter what I get done in December (on Dec. 1, my goal was to get to 75,000 words in the Breezeway draft by New Year’s Eve, but that’s looking a little optimistic given my work schedule), I consider 2009 a success. I won’t have finished another novel draft, but I’ll have gotten damn close.

One more note on Breezeway: I like what I’ve done so far. It will need major revisions, but I’m not totally embarrassed by it, either. I only started to get the main character’s voice about 35,000 words in, so I’ll have to fix his early scenes and revise the story a bit to make his actions more consistent with what his personality is turning out to be. I may also want to reorder the scenes a bit to make some events happen earlier, which would changing the pacing, but I’m not sure about that.

I’ve also started thinking about how to rewrite last year’s novel, Meet the Larssons. I put it away three-quarters of the way through the second draft, because it had turned into a mess.  I’m thinking about starting to type in those edits but revising it further as I go, to see if I can salvage it. I feel like I’ve finally gotten the necessary distance to give it the rewrite it needs. I have also thought about rewriting it from scratch so that I won’t feel tied to the original version at all, but that may be too drastic.

The side effects of doing NaNoWriMo were different from what I expected.  I think it’s safe to say that NaNo did not have a very significant impact on my work. I billed a few more hours in November than in October; both months were about average.

The physical impact was considerably more noticeable; I worked out less often in November than the previous month, and the workouts I did were less intense (shorter long runs and no speed work, for example); I worked out less in October than usual because of the week off to recover from the Urbanathlon. I ate more junk than usual (especially while the leftover Halloween candy lasted) and went to bed even later than I ordinarily do, which was part of why I exercised so much less — I couldn’t get up in the morning to go for a run, and I was writing during lunch so I couldn’t go to the gym. The 3.2 pound weight gain was bad enough, but I think it understates the changes from unused muscles and so on. I feel much more out of shape than I did at the start of the month.

The Siren can speak to this if she likes, but I think I got a little better over the course of the month about not completely hiding from my family to write. At the beginning, I think I shut myself off more, but about halfway through I was confident enough that I was making good progress that I reengaged a little. Unfocused Girl kvetched a little on a couple of nice Saturdays that I spent the afternoon in the study instead of chasing her around the backyard, but, after November was over, I asked her if she thought I had ignored her and Junior and she said she didn’t. She might just have been telling me what I wanted to hear, but she seemed genuine enough.

For me, NaNoWriMo was an almost entirely positive experience. If I do it again in 2010 — and that isn’t a given, since I don’t know what I’ll be working on in 11 months — I’ll try to keep my running going a little better, at least, and maybe go to bed a little earlier (although I’m not sure why November would be any different from the other 11 months in that respect), but I wouldn’t change much else about the way I did it. My primary goal was to reboot my fiction writing habits and make a good start on Breezeway, and I did both. Word count aside, NaNo worked out exactly the way I’d hoped.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a run.

Just a reminder that every day through Christmas Eve, the Green Eyed Siren is making a new batch of cookies for NaCoBakMo, National Cookie Baking Month. Make a donation of $25 or more to the Irving Park Community Food Pantry and email her the receipt and she’ll send you a batch of mouth-wateringly delicious homemade cookies. As an added incentive, we’ll match the first $500 of donations. So donate today! Or don’t, and then there will be more cookies for me! Check out the Siren’s latest NaCoBakMo update here.

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3 responses to “Post-NaNoWriMo Update: Lessons Learned.

  1. I have no idea how you do all the things you do!

  2. NaCaBakMo…I really…I had no…ok…I don’t know what to say. *heads to oven to begin* If this is anything like NaNo and there’s a set number of cookies I need by Dec. 1, I better start now b/c I’m already behind!

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