Completing NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Winner 2014I didn’t think I’d manage to complete it. In fact, I predicted an early failure, and at first it seemed that my prediction would be entirely borne out. I met the word count for the first two days, then failed to write anything for the next six. This put me somewhat behind.

On the ninth day, I tried again. I tried to write two thousand words a day, every day. It was difficult, and it wiped me out most evenings, but I managed it. Some days, I even managed more. On day twenty-two, I caught up with the suggested amount – where I should have been if I’d written 1/50th per day. And now, day twenty-nine, I’m done.

It doesn’t actually feel as good as I wanted it to, to be honest. I didn’t pump the air or anything. Instead, I made a hot water bottle. However, I do feel quietly content; I took on a task and completed it.

This, as I have mentioned before, is something of a new experience for me. I don’t persevere – if I don’t excel immediately at something, then clearly the activity is stupid, and I quit. It is a character flaw, one of many, and I was attempting NaNoWriMo in a bid to begin correcting that flaw.

I haven’t corrected it – I still procrastinate and abdicate responsibility all over the place. But this is proof that I don’t have to do that. I put effort into something voluntary and didn’t quit even when it was hard. It’s nice to know that I am not a totally hopeless case.

The work itself, on the other hand, is a totally hopeless case. It is an awful insult to the idea of creative writing. I have committed essentially every amateur error one could name, and then a few more. The pacing is inconsistent, the characters wooden, the dialogue clunky, and the prose itself grates like a knife on a ceramic plate.

That is not to say that it hasn’t been valuable – I’ve made countless mistakes, but have hopefully learnt not to make them any more. I know now what I need to work on, what not to do, and so on. My writing should be better over all – that’s the dream.

I’ve gained a lot of practice in various areas that I wasn’t as confident in – I tend to eschew dialogue when writing, because it is difficult to do well. Just reporting conversations doesn’t work for longer texts though, so I’ve had to get over that. It still clunks, because dialogue is hard, and anyone who talks in a way that sounds natural to me sounds like a caricature anyway, but my ability to write decent dialogue has (I think) vastly improved.

I’ve also learnt that I know very, very, little. I think of myself as reasonably well-informed: I can hold an intelligent conversation on a wide range of topics, but that is very different to being able to write about a wide range of topics. My knowledge of specifics on almost anything is rather limited, which became immediately obvious when I tried to describe scenes or even normal, everyday actions. The takeaway from this particular massive flaw in my novel is that I need to do much, much more research on everything before writing about anything. Or I could interpret “write what you know” entirely literally, but that would be extremely boring for everyone; I haven’t had a bad life, but “comfortable” and “interesting” are in no way synonymous.

On a side note, I’ve discovered an amazing ability to write in my sleep. My November has been incredibly busy, and I’ve been stopping working, let alone writing, close to midnight each night. This has led to me desperately trying to hammer out my word count while my body is screaming for sleep. On several occasions, I’ve actually fallen into a doze – only for a few moments – while writing. However, being asleep hasn’t actually stopped my fingers from typing.

If I had more interesting dreams, then I’m sure the sentences would be fascinating. But my dreams are dull currently – I’m just dreaming about work. What this means in practice is that every so often my vicious goblins spent a sentence or two filing progress reports, or discussing the health and safety guidelines.

I could list the other mistakes I made and the things I learnt for another fifty thousand words, but seeing it in black and white would probably be depressing. So instead, I shall focus on the positives. I’m glad, in the end, that I did it. I demonstrated that I could, which is always nice, and hopefully developed my work ethic into something that someone else would recognize as such. Moreover, I identified a number of weaknesses within my writing, and a number of ways to improve. I should, barring unforeseen confounding variables, never write something that appalling and amateurish again.

November has been a difficult month, for  various reasons. December should be easier and more pleasant. The largest change is that I don’t have to write anymore, which feels rather freeing. I am going to try and keep writing every day though – not the same amount, maybe only a thousand a day – just to keep momentum. Constantly, throughout the month, I’ve been having other and better ideas, and now I can concentrate on them without feeling guilty. I’m going to try and write something I can be proud of for the prose, not the simple fact of its existence.

Apparently literary agents hate this time of year, because they are snowed under by queries from people who think that NaNoWriMo made them an author worthy of being published. It didn’t do that to me – my book is so far from being publishable (it isn’t even complete) that the very idea is laughable. But it was a valuable and interesting experience. I’m not sure if I’d ever do it again – I think I’d rather concentrate on quality rather than quantity from now on. Still, I’m happy, and I’m proud of myself. Now I can go to sleep.


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