NaNoWriMo is Over (and What I Learned)

So, NaNoWriMo is over, and I won! Well, as usual, I managed to write more than 50 000 words in a month (around 64 000 to be exact), but, unsurprisingly, my novel is far from being finished. I’m currently at chapter 9 out of about 30. Go figure.

Well, this is fantasy so it’s understandable that the word count is higher. I am still unsure if this is going to be a single novel or a trilogy. There is sure enough material for a trilogy (or at least a duology – is there such a thing as a fantasy duology, BTW?), but it’s definitely one story and no part is a standalone novel. I am not sure. I figured I have to write it all to see where it stands.

What have I learn during this NaNoWriMo? Well, for starts, that I write much better under pressure – my best word count score was in 2010 while I was working away from home and had only limited time to write. When I have more time (or I think I have more time), I tend to over think. Overthinking = bad for writing. These things should be left for the revision. Seriously: the first draft will suck anyway, so you need to write it as productively as you can, to tell the whole story for the first time and to see where you stand.

Another thing I learned is that I need to find a balance between plotting and pantsing. I’m not going to lie: I’m a big plotter. I can’t write unless I know all the important elements of a story. But what I consider a key element can basically be… anything. See the problem? I am one of those people who world build to no end and plot every single thing. I’ve spent years – as in, almost a decade – plotting this fantasy story. Yes, you read that right: the first time I started plotting it, Lord of the Rings movies were in cinemas. I was in my early 20s. Oh, I feel so old now.

But back to the point: I am a plotter, a big one. But sometimes, it doesn’t work for a story, mainly because it a) prevents you from writing until you figured everything out and b) it can make you bored by the story by the end of the plotting because there’s nothing new for you to discover in it. And perhaps the most important: you can’t plot everything until you start writing – the actual process of writing will change some of your ideas, and it’s the only way to see what works and what doesn’t. So I figured I had to develop a bit of a looser approach, to become a bit, just a bit of a pantser. So, I am letting this story navigates itself. It allows me to see the story the way a reader would. There’s more on this topic and I hope I’ll write more about it (plotting vs pantsing), but the point is that I’m leaving some things open and it makes my writing a bit slower because I constantly need to re-evaluate what I’ve written and see if it works.

I also learned it’s difficult for me to write action-packed scenes or sudden changes in setting. The story is about a journey (road movie style… well, more of a fantasy quest), and I constantly need to take my characters, move them around, and there’s always something going on. While some of this stuff is exciting to write, I have a feeling I’m not dedicating enough time to my characters, their personalities and the “deeper” parts of the story (Ugh. I hate this word. Sounds pretentious). What I mean is that I like slower parts because they allows me to explore characters, setting and the overall point of the story better – but since they are on the move, I don’t feel I can do it adequately. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but it’s a bit difficult for me to adapt to this faster pace.

It’s also a bit challenging to write with so many characters (there are 8 main characters, plus one that will also be significant). It’s not my first time to do it, but this time I want to do it right. I just have to accept that certain characters will get more “screen” time than the others, and it’s fine, but I need to find a balance so I can explore their personalities. I know a lot about all of them (I’ve been plotting the story for almost a decade, remember?), and it’s a bit challenging to make this short version work, so to speak. I also need to find a way to make my main character a big of an egoistical jerk but still sympathetic and relatable. But it’s another kind of a challenge.

Music. I am not a band member and my characters are musicians. I can’t play and they can, so it is challenging. It’s one of the reasons that kept me in the plotting stage for so long, because I didn’t feel ready to start writing before I do my research about these technical aspects of music. But you know what? I actually figured out that music and sound in my world are different than here, so I have a freedom of making my own rules on how musicians might feel and what they do. It’s one of those things I figured out only after I started writing the story, which is another reason why all plotters should learn how to be pantsers at least a bit.

Stuff I learned in previous NaNoWriMos that are still true today: I’ve learned a lot from previous NaNos, especially the 2010 one. Some of this things are: dialogue. I am good at it. Well, good enough to express my characters’ personalities through dialogue. I used to believe dialogue is not my strength and that I shouldn’t use it often, but now I see it’s actually one of the best aspect of my writing (there’s still room for improvement, of course). Another thing I learned is that I can write from a male POV. I had no idea how that would go, but 2010 NaNo taught me that I can write from a male POV, which is good, because this year’s story has a male protagonist. I also learned how to describe things: instead of throwing a full-blown description section, I give little hints and describe people and settings in a few key lines. It works better and it’s more memorable that way.

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