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NaNoWriMo Reflections

With the buzz of National Novel Writing Month over, it's now a time for reflection and introspection. Take a step back from your work before examining it. Did you meet your goal? Did your writing meet your standards?

Will it ultimately meet your standards? Will you make something of what you've written this NaNoWriMo? Share your experiences with us in the comments! And thanks for tagging along with us on this writing adventure.

Below, our experts share their reflections on their NaNoWriMo experiences, looking to the future of their writing and what they've learned, while offering advice to those who also won this year, did not participate, gave up, or are thinking of participating in the future.

Did you miss any of our other posts in our NaNoWriMo blogging series? Be sure to check the others out:

Natania Barron: So here's the thing. If you're being technical, Jonathan and I didn't win NaNoWriMo. Neither of us hit 50,000 words.

But I'm not upset in the least.

Why? Because NaNoWriMo isn't just about "winning" really. Sure, you get a nice little badge and you can share an icon on your blog and social media. But at the end of the day sometimes (and this has happened to me) what you end up with is more work than what you started with.

From the outset, Jonathan and I wanted to use NaNoWriMo as a tool. Not an event. The focus, for us, was kindling a fire, carving out some time in our equally hectic lives to do a project that neither of us could manage alone. Did we do that? Hell yes we did. To the tune of around 70,000 words, we're more than halfway through the book, and getting into the nitty gritty now. The deep collaboration. We had no way of knowing, starting out, where that would take us, where we'd end up. But once I hit about 35,000 words on my part of the story it became clear that we had to work more closely—and more slowly—to get the rest of the book right.

The most amazing part of the whole process has been sharing a brain. Well, not exactly. A space. That's why we called our blog Two Brain Space—instead of going it alone, Jonathan and I have been able to bandy about when we're stuck for ideas. And going back and reading what he's written always inspires me to tweak and improve, and sometimes figure out entire sections of the book. It's a thrilling, wonderful process to share an imagined world with someone who isn't you. Like playing pretend all over again. But, in our case, with more spiders.

Defining your own success is a totally hackneyed concept, sure. But if you lost NaNoWriMo this year, don't despair. You've started something amazing. Something no one else could do the way you've done it. You're not a loser.

Stephen King's On Writing was a big influence on my process early on as a writer. And he's the one that's forever lodged the concept of excavation to me—that we're not so much writing books as we are excavating them, like archaeologists. Not every writer has the same experience or the same tools. And NaNoWriMo is just one of those tools. What matters is that you become familiar with the habit of writing. That even when November is over, you're finding those whispers at the back of your mind telling you to dig a little more. You're out there finding new tools to help you dig out that dragon skeleton. Or maybe it's a cavern to another world. Or an old spaceship. But you're the only one that can do it, the only one that can find it.

So NaNo losers, let's celebrate! So long as you've honed your skills and fine-tuned your approach, you've won.

Rachael Herron:It was a quiet win this year. I was at work on a break, four-thirty in the morning. I slid over the finish line with six words to spare, and when I went home later that morning, I got in bed and slept the sleep of the just. I've still got another 50k to go to see the end of this first draft, so I'm doing a repeat NaNoWriMo in December. I've learned the Reverse NaNo is for me—a week or two of hard work followed by smug backsliding. What's not to love about that kind of system? Add some holiday chocolate, and Bob's your wordy uncle. 

Nikki Hyson:Wow what an amazing month. I won. Which kinda surprises me since the first 2/3 of the month felt like such a battle. The last two days, however, were a victory in every aspect of the word. Not only did I write about 10k in 36 hours, but I had several revelations about my characters and their choices that literally made me gasp. Things I never saw coming. Things that thrilled and left me hungering for the lengthy revision process. But that's for another day. Right now, I want to tell you a secret. I honestly wasn't going to participate this year. I'd considered it in a very half-hearted way for all of October. Being my fifth year, I already knew the struggle it would be. The lack of sleep, trying to juggle working retail in November, and more importantly: writing huge chunks when I justdidn't feel like it. I know my muse. She's a fickle, cranky old bat who only makes appearances sometime AFTER I've already logged 5 or 6 hours in a row and my hand is tingly. Wouldn't it be nice to not push? To not struggle through? To be ... ordinary. Then the NaNo site rebooted and the scales tipped. What's so great about ordinary? About easy? What great thing has ever happened the easy way? Looking at the new site, checking out every nook and cranny, listening to the forums sing with activity, I knew one thing. I was home. And, for the month of November, there's no place like it. See you next year!

Regina Kammer: You know what? My story is a mess. There are inconsistencies, plot holes, and I have no idea where my hero’s sister went after page 3, but she suddenly became an important plot device at the end of the novel.

If I handed the manuscript to an editor right now, it would come back to me slashed with red and flagged with comments like “what does that even mean?”

Well, I know what I meant to write, my characters know what they meant to say, but you know what? No one else knows any of this right now.

That is the beauty of NaNoWriMo. You’re writing for the sake of writing, forming all those ideas and images into words. They may be the most clunky words ever, but they are words. And words can be reformed into better words. That process is called editing.

To quote Chuck Wendig: “Writing is when we make the words, editing is when we make them not shitty.”

To quote Nora Roberts: “You can't edit a blank page.”

November is not National Novel Editing Month. Nope. (Apparently that is officially in March.) November is writing quantity month. 50,000 words of quantity.

What did I get out of writing quantity not quality? I got a few plot twists and details that I had not considered when I started working on the outline. I also cut some fat out of my story. I had a whole plot line involving the hero’s sister that just didn’t add anything to the story, and, I discovered while frantically typing, I wasn’t interested in that plot line anyway. However, as noted in the first paragraph of this essay, the sister still needs to play some part. I’m just not quite sure what that part is.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, NaNoWriMo is the way to do it. The great thing is that 1,667 words a day is a big chunk of words and yet, at the same time, a manageable chunk of words. I actually pace myself accordingly (although I tend to write in scenes rather than word chunks). I’m not a fast writer, I’m not the best writer (initially; I pretty much rock after edits), so if I can do this, so can you.

November/December 2014 Writer's Digest

 The November/December 2014 issue of Writer's Digest
is loaded with advice, tips, and strategies
to help you survive—and thrive—during NaNoWriMo.

Kathy Kitts:This is my twelfth win in a row, but even if I hadn't won this year, NaNoWriMo provides a confidence that extends beyond writing. No matter the type of challenge I may face, I can succeed by applying the rules of NaNo: set a goal, tell others, get a support group, and plug away each day. The recipe for success might not be easy, but it sure is nice to know what it is.

Kristen Rudd: I've got the post-NaNoWriMo blues. While I'm super happy that I've got 50,000 words on my project to work with now, I'm restless and don't know what to do with my time. Really? No write-ins to attend? No word counts to procrastinate over? No forums to check? What happens now?

This is a common refrain. What happens now is that I must keep going, despite the mush-like state my brain is currently in. I must keep writing and not lose my momentum. A lot of people take a break this first week of December—they step back from what they've done with the promise to edit or finish it after the holidays. Maybe they didn't win and think their novel's not worth continuing. I have done all of this, too.

This is a mistake. Editing, sure—step away, but start something else immediately. But if you're not finished, you cannot stop now because the next thing you know, the holidays will come and go, and you will have lost that habit. I don't want to lose the habit. It's easy to let life get in the way of developing your craft. So I will press on and keep writing.

EJ Runyon: They tell you: "Write. Don’t stop. Don’t over think it. Just write. Get it down. All of it. Don’t go back to bits for polishing. Get to the end as you now know it to be. That’s the goal – the end."

But once the month is over—start talking to yourself about what to do with your NaNo effort:

Tell yourself,
Finish it.
Let it sit.
Re-read it. Make notes. Don’t dive into edits yet.
Re-read your notes.
Re-write it.
Proofread it yourself.
Don’t rush.
Don’t know how to proof your own work? Learn.
Show it to other writers, not to readers yet.
Take on what critiques matter, leave those that don’t sound right to you.
Re-write it off the notes you will take on.
Finish all the re-writes.
Let it sit.
Proofread it yourself. Then send it off to a story or content editor.
Work the story edits you two agree on.
Proofread it yourself.
Don’t rush.
Send it to a professional proofreader. Not your cousin, sister, or friend unless they do that for a living.
Re-read it. You reading your own galleys is an author’s job. Don’t skip this bit.

After all that, then say, “NOW is the time to work on the blurb, synopsis and cover art.”

Jessica Schley: The big thing I always have to hold in my mind after a NaNo is that what I've produced is probably a zero draft. I wish I could remember who first coined that term, but it's pretty easily googleable and in common parlance in the writing world now. My NaNo novels often need a complete re-write by the end—if for no other reason than that it seems my method of winning NaNo is to crank out thousands of words over Thanksgiving. So, you know, I need to go back and say, use contractions! There's a tendency to feel like, "Wow, I have a mess here." And truth is, you probably do. But within that mess is an awesome story that maybe needs some of the excess marble chipped away so that it can become a clearer sculpture. So if you're feeling like your novel is maybe not what you wanted, put it away for a little while (I'll be doing that—I'm revising two other pieces right now and those get top billing!) and come back to it with fresh eyes sometime in 2015. Chances are, you'll see the book inside it that just needs a little coaxing to come out. Congratulations on making it through November, no matter what your word count is.

Brian Schwarz: NaNo is a trip.

It seems like I develop some kind of amnesia when thinking of NaNo, because each year that I choose to participate I try to forget the previous years (or I look back on them and think about the great moments).

The honest truth about NaNoWriMo is that it is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Each year I think I won't make it. Each year I give myself a list of excuses a mile long. Each year I fight to play catch-up, get caught up at some point, and spend the rest of the month behind because I got too comfortable.

My wife has a good piece of advice that she preaches to me. She tells it to me over and over again:

"You get out what you put in," she says.

Now for those of you who are considering doing NaNo for the first time next year, or for those of you who did it and failed, or even those who succeeded, I want you to ponder these words.

You get out what you put in.

To me, NaNo isn't "a trip" because you write a lot of words, or because you spend a lot of time on a computer, or because its wrought with all sorts of roller coaster up and downs. NaNo is crazy because it makes you realize exactly how much time in a month you really have.

This month, I wrote 53,000 words. I did this by sacrificing all manner of things. Some of these I cannot continue to sacrifice, such as time with my wife or generic sleep. But some of these I can absolutely continue to give up.

Whether you wrote 50 words or 50,000 words, you learned this lesson too. You learned that you get out what you put in. Because being a writer is as simple as sacrificing time that could be used for other things, and using it instead to write.

So quit reading this and go write something. Or better yet, make a commitment to revise what you wrote and start that instead. :)

Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer's Digest Books.

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