I crossed the 2013 National Novel Writing Month finish line with just above 50,100 words, with 13 hours to spare. This was my third year participating, but my first “win.” Herewith some lessons:
- I do best when I have an outline of the work in mind before I begin, including scene synopses and character sketches. I use Scrivener for Windows, so all of this info is readily at hand. Before Halloween, I plotted out 25 scenes over 12 chapters (with a prologue) with a goal of putting a minimum of 2,000 words in each scene, one scene per day, with five days off in the month. I didn’t stick exactly to that schedule, but getting slightly ahead of target early in the month gave me some slack later in the month. All I really had to do was treat each scene like a module; it’s less daunting to write a 2,000-word scene than to write “a novel” in exactly the same way it’s easier to eat calamari instead of a giant squid.
- The more I finished, the easier it was to write. After about the 30k mark, the words flowed easier because I better understood the nuances of the story and the personalities of the characters. By the end, I had so much stuff I wanted to stick in that I had to discipline myself to stick to the original plan of getting all 25 of the originally planned scenes done.
- Syncing my novel files to SkyDrive (and removing the Office Document Uploader, the bane of my existence) means I can seamlessly pick up the work on my Surface Pro or on my desktop PC. No worries about not backing up, losing a hard drive, breaking a USB stick, yadda, yadda ….
- Writing with a group means you’re disciplined about it. I give credit to my friends Julie and Roux for their consistent encouragement, as well as my whole chain-gang of WriteOn! colleagues who made things more palatable and certainly more pastry-filled. I hosted a Saturday-morning write-in that, over the month, logged almost 95,000 words among our motley cast of characters. Plus, I won the “Word War Benevolent Leader” award at the Ottawa County/Grand Rapids regional TGIO party and the “Most Likely to Carry a Sub in His Car” award from Jessica’s Kentwood Library write-in. W00t.
- I’m a reviser. I write fairly slowly, perhaps 1,000 words per hour if I’m focused, because I write fairly clean prose on the first pass. It’s easier to reach the end if you resist the urge to re-revise already written work and instead just get things on paper.
- The folks who conduct the annual event remind us that, really, NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing a novel. It’s about getting the first 50k words of a novel’s “zero draft” down. The real work comes with subsequent addition, revision, editing, etc. I agree with this sentiment: I “won” but I haven’t yet written a novel. But I’ve got enough of a novel done now that to decline to finish would be a tremendous waste. The 50k mark gets you not to the end, but to the point of no return: You’re committed, so use December and the months following to wrap things up.
So what’s next? Well, I’m taking two weeks off for the end-of-December holiday season. I have sundry tasks planned for myself, but chief among them is to bring the novel up to roughly 85,000 words, plus or minus five grand. And there’s plenty of opportunity to augment it — I have some notes about scenes I need to beef up, one whole scene I need to add for context, some holes to plug … and I must straighten one of the two subplots so it’s got a stronger element of interpersonal struggle about it.
Beyond that, I’ve got a few folks who have volunteered to read the draft. I intend to give it to them so they can hack it to pieces (I don’t want nice reviews, I want mean ones — the mean ones help improve the quality of the final draft).
The novel is straight genre: It’s a detective fiction, set in modern-day Grand Rapids, with a not-entirely-loveable main character who, I think, grows a bit by the end. Sex and violence are present but muted and not at all graphic — this is probably a PG-13 book — and expletives are reserved for occasional bits of dialogue for certain characters. I’ve left the door open for this concept and the primary cast of characters to turn into a series. Maybe volume No. 2 comes with 2014 NaNo?
I think I can get this into a form ready for release to an agent. Assuming I win the 1-percent-chance lottery of finding one. If late spring rolls around and I have no bites on the manuscript, off to Amazon it goes at $2.99 a pop.
One of my bucket-list items was “Write a novel.” The draft of Sanctuary is rough, but in good shape. I’m happy with it. I crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line, now I need to bring November’s work product past the finish line, too.