Friday, May 15, 2015

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

Dear NaNo,

When I gave you (and later your more flexible incarnation CampNaNo) a chance, I thought as you and I would race down toward that haloed goal of 50K words, we would cross the finish line and ride into the sunset hand in hand together. Well, that’s before counting on the engine breakdown and innumerable flats after we’d barely begun our soon-to-be disastrous journey of doom.

Sadly NaNo, you and I were never meant to be. It’s you, it’s not me. And yes, this is my break-up notice.

Yours untruly etc. etc.

Remember that last time I said I was doing NaNoWriMo in an effort to finish my novel? Guess what? It didn't go well.

I'm not saying that NaNo is useless. In fact, it's a pretty neat tool for writers. For people who struggle to write without a deadline or some kind of do-or-die motivation, NaNo supplies that missing fuel to power them through an ugly first draft by pushing their dreaded inner editor off the bus and running them over. That's right, NaNo is like a freakin' coach ride where pesky things like inner editors, laundry and showering get shamelessly left behind.

The pros:
  • The word count stats are awesome. Especially when your word count is progressing and you get an estimate date of when you could finish that novel.
  • The writing community. You're not alone or writing in a vacuum. There are hundreds of thousands of writers across the world struggling as hard as you to pour 50K words out of them by the end of the month. You can add writing buddies to accompany you on this journey and offer some much needed support to each other and also keep track of others' word counts.
  • The endless writing resources. Throughout the entire experience, NaNo's superhero staff sends you links to various online resources to help you finish your novel or often, a much needed word of encouragement (otherwise known as sanity-saving moral support).
  • The weekly pep talks by pubbed writers sharing their experiences and advice (the BEST PART in my opinion!)
The cons:
  • The stress, man so much stress. (That's what broke NaNo for me after a few days of trying.)
  • The purpose of NaNo is to write a substantial word count really hard and really fast. Whether those words are actually usable or not is another kettle of fish.

From day one, I never met the daily word quota required to reach 50K by month end. And seeing my droopy stats made me well a tad depressed. Also, I feel that NaNo, while being a great tool for many writers, was rather counter-intuitive for me. The deadline didn't motivate me, it froze me. The faster the deadline approached, the more I would neglect my writing. As if I wanted to miss that deadline on purpose. So. In truth, it's me, it's not you NaNo. Or rather it's my lazy-ass brain.

I failed NaNo miserably but here’s my takeaway from the whole experience:
  1. Get into the habit of writing on a regular basis. The keyword here is regular. It doesn't matter what you write or how much you write as long as you write. So, write. Exercise that damn writing muscle every single day if you can. Don't let it atrophy. It's damn hard to revive.
  2. Stop editing your first draft so much. In other words, stop fighting your draft and trying to wrestle it into perfection from the start itself. You've got bigger issues at hand. Like finishing the story. Think of it this way: what if you reach the 75% point of a painstakingly edited first draft just to realize how much you hate it and decide to ditch it? In short, finish first and edit later. That way if you decide to ditch it, it will save you a ton of work and time by not editing the thing.
  3. Keep track of your word count and how often you are writing. That's where my killer Excel sheet skills come in. I love word count stats. I do. I find this so motivating to see my overall word count ever-increasing. It means that I'm writing more and improving my craft at the same time. Because here's a secret guys, you get better with each word you write. The more you write, the more you learn about the craft. I know I'm a much better writer than I was say...three years back.
  4. Don't say that you will attempt to write X number of words today. If you're anything like me, you'll try your damnedest to fall short of it and then feel like crap that you didn't meet your goal. Just start writing a scene. For fun. Get inside the scene and stop worrying about word count while you're writing. Even if I write X words, if it's X words of drivel, I get no sense of satisfaction or productivity from it.
Really, I cannot say it better than this awesome post by Erika D. Price.

Anyway, I've noticed that once NaNo was over, the draft of my novel saw a dramatic surge. I wrote so much more than I thought I could since a long time. Maybe right now, NaNo is not the tool for me and I just need to work at my own pace. Maybe, I'll try it again a few years down the road. When, I've learned to stick to deadlines. *evil laugh*

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." – Douglas Adams

And oh, isn't this quote just delightful?

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