The NaNo Diaries: What I Learned

My NaNo is long over.

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And you are probably sick to death of hearing about it. But it would seem that I can’t shut up.

For the last two Novembers, that was me as well. And even when I plunged into this NaNo adventure, I didn’t expect to turn into such a hardcore believer. Oops.

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NaNo was one of the most fun things I have ever done, but perhaps the best thing about it was how much I learned from the experience.

Things about myself and my novel that I had no idea about.

1. It’s hard to kill a character.

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So much harder than I expected.

One of the first scenes I wrote during NaNo was a death scene involving a teenage girl. Not a main character, exactly, but an innocent one.

And it wasn’t one of those implied deaths – you “see” it happen through the eyes of a main character.

I found that it was oddly emotional for me. I guess I kind of assumed that my dark writer’s soul could handle it, especially since the death wasn’t coming to me as a surprise; I had been planning to do this scene for a while. And yet… it was difficult.

Who’da thunk?

2. My outline was not specific enough.

As aforesaid, I have been working on this story for six years.

That’s a long time. In case you were wondering.

So I thought there was essentially nothing I did not know about my novel. I thought I had it all figured out.

I didn’t.

There is a world of difference between having an idea in your head and trying to translate that idea into coherent sentences in strings that becomes paragraphs and chapters.

And so – within the parameters of the existing outline – I did a lot of what is formally called “pantsing.”

It was fun, but admittedly scary. As a perfectionist, I like to put everything in little boxes and label them neatly. Pantsing does not allow for that. An idea pops into your head and you just go with it, allowing it to lead you where it will.

Ultimately, I narrowed down what genre it was that I was writing, killed characters I never planned on killing, and threw in a few natural disasters and injuries that weren’t in my original outline.

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3. I can be funny.

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A while ago I realized for the first time that while I am funny in person, I was not all that funny on paper – or on screen – and thought that may have been part of the reason why my following did not seem to be growing.

Needless to say, I have been trying to improve my skills in that department. To lecture less and use my natural sarcasm more.

Well. It must have paid off, because as I was writing for NaNo, I found myself snickering at my own wit every now and then.

4. I write faster on lined paper.

As some of you know, I wrote my novel by hand. This is mostly because I don’t have access to a PC on a regular basis. I will admit, however, that writing by hand has grown on me over the years. But that’s a discussion for another post.

I knew that I would be writing my novel by hand, so I gathered a stash of “scrap paper” – paper that has been used on one side but still has one side free.

This, of course, means that the paper is printer paper, unlined.

I didn’t make it even halfway through the stack that I had gathered. Writing on unlined paper was… less-than-motivating. For one thing, unlined sheets of paper somehow look larger than sheets from a notebook.

Don’t ask why. Maybe they actually are? Who knows.

All I know is that I started allowing myself to write in a notebook – and the carefully hoarded pile of scrap paper was left to sit on my bedroom floor in a sad bundle. Oops.

5. Writing a book is hard work.

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For those of you who didn’t already know.

When you write a book slowly over the period of six years, it doesn’t seem too hard. Only boring perhaps.

NaNo made me realize that writing a book – actually writing a book – is anything but boring. And far more difficult than I had previously thought.

As I mentioned before, I got about the same amount of sleep as I normally do. So it wasn’t as much physical exhaustion as mental.

After a while, I couldn’t seem to think about anything besides my novel. Couldn’t focus or make any kind of progress on other hobbies or pursuits.

Gives you a new appreciation for the people who do this for a living, doesn’t it?

6. Journaling is helpful.

I stole this from one of the pep talks on the NaNo site. Just so you know.

Journaling before and after writing helped me to ease into writing and to process what I have just written.

I found that I needed a place where I was allowed to scribble and be messy, where I could think out loud, ask questions, explore ideas.

And, I think my favorite part of this idea is something the writer of the pep talk said – you are writing the “story of the story.”

7. Black pen is better than blue.

I already knew this, to be perfectly honest.

As someone who uses pen on a daily basis, take it from me – black pen is the only way to go. Red, of course, is horrifying. Blue is more like… annoying.

Can we all just agree to only use black pen? Please?

8. Writing crazy people is fun.

Which is scary. Perhaps I should be concerned about my own mental health?

But, let’s be honest. I’ve always been a little crazy.

Maybe that’s why I’m so good at writing crazies…

9. Music is hugely unhelpful, silence is awesome… and hard to come by.

When NaNo was looming, everyone began talking about the playlist they had designed to write to.

I tried it. I did.

It didn’t work.

I love music. That’s not the problem. Or is it? I l think I love it too much.. and that’s why I can’t listen to it and write at the same time.

So while Lindsey Stirling and Dia Frampton’s We Are Giants and Pentatonix’s Na Na Na make the best NaNo anthems you can imagine, I See Fire by Ed Sheeran could be the theme song for one of my villains, and Christine‘s recommendation of the soundtrack for The Elder Scrolls and the Game of Thrones soundtrack should have been fantastic writing music for the type of novel I was writing, I found that nothing was as good as silence.

Or as hard to get ahold of…

10. I am a pantser.

It never even occurred to me that I could be a pantser. I just assumed that I was a plotter. It made more sense for my personality – I like to have things all planned out ahead of time.

I surprised myself.

But you know what? I’m okay with that. We’re all bundles of contradictions, yes?

So I’m a pantser!

What did NaNo teach you about yourself and your novel? What color pen do you like best? Do you ever write by hand? Are sheets of unlined paper bigger than sheets of notebook paper? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What did you listen to as you wrote? Do you journal?