Yesterday I was ready to stop writing for the day, so I calculated my word count and was a surprised to see I was within 300 words of the 50,000 word finish line. I decided to keep going and ten minutes later I checked again and I’d crossed the line (not by much, but that’s not the point).
So 50,000 words in 26 days. That beats anything I’ve ever done before. Is it any good? I think it is. Maybe not right now, but with a bit more work. Of course the novel isn’t finished. I’m guessing it’ll be about 60,000 by the end of this draft. It’s a very rough draft, but it’s nearly finished. My last novel had over 100,000 words in the first draft, but it took me about a year to write. At my current pace I’d have that done in two months.
So what have I learned?
First drafts are supposed to suck. I now accept that, and I can write something I know full well contradicts everything that came before it without feeling the need to go back and rewrite the earlier sections. What a waste of time that would have been, since the sections I would have rewritten would have needed to be rewritten again when later the story changed again. I did make a lot of notes on what would need changing, but I didn’t bother going back to find where exactly the changes needed to be. I’ll probably have enough notes to give me 20,000-40,000 more words once those ideas are expanded.
I need an outline, but I don’t need a hyper detailed scene by scene outline. My characters grow as I write them, and not during the creation process. If I over-plot the story the characters become puppets. This time I wrote a lightly detailed first act outline, and a rough second act/third act outline with a definitive ending. Then I let the story grow. When I got stuck in the middle I stepped back and outlined the remainder of the second act in more detail. When I finished the second act I did the same for the third. It worked well for me.
When something deviates wildly from said outline, go with it. I thought I was going to run out of story before hitting 50,000. Then one of my supporting characters did something completely unexpected which set off a chain of events leading to a more satifying version of the ending I had always intended. He knew what the story needed, even if I didn’t. By letting that character have his way (mostly) I got to write some very exciting pieces I hadn’t planned on, plus I understand a lot more about said character and his motivations. There were a few less successful versions of this, but for those I just nudged the story back on track a bit faster.
You don’t need a great idea, just an idea. All I started with was one of the characters from a novel I shelved without starting. I’d done pre-work, and I do intend to write that book, but one of the characters was very loosely defined in my mind. I decided I’d write my NaNo novel about that character. I knew who he would be later in his life, but not much more. I rolled a few things around in my head for a few days and went for it. I’m not sure this would have worked without the pre-work I’d done for the other novel, but it worked for this. I may try this exercise again with one of the other characters.
It’s very unlikely I’ll keep going at the same pace, but I am going to try and keep some of the habits I learned. I’m aiming to keep to 1000 words a day (during NaNo I tried for 2000). At worst that should be 2-3 15 minute sprints. Writing every day helps. When I skipped a day, for whatever reason, the first day back was always a struggle. My inner-editor had moved back in and set up house, and my momentum was gone. On the flip side some days I was just burned out. I had 700 words in me and no more. So I need to find that balance. I’m probably going to concentrate on the weekdays, and try to just touch base on the weekends (much to the relief of my family).
Thanks to everyone who offered encouragement, and especially to my wife and kids for letting me have Sunday mornings. I’m sorry to everyone who asked, “What’s it about?”. I’m uncomfortable answering that question while I’m still writing in most cases, so any answer you received was probably not helpful. The one exception to that is my friend Jon. For some reason I can talk to him about what I’m writing and he never stops me to ask questions, or offers suggestions, or passes judgment. Mostly he listens with enthusiasm. It may sound like I’m talking to myself, but telling him about things now and then helped me keep my motivation going without worry that he would derail me in some way.