50,118 Words. 29 Days (I somehow managed to finish a day early). NaNoWriMo is officially behind me. And what an exciting, stressful, wonderfully insane experience it was.
As promised (though I never did get around to that 'midway post' I promised, sorry about that) I'm going to recap the entire experience with WAY more pictures than you'd think I'd have relating to a month that revolved around sitting in front of my laptop.
Matt Shafeek's NaNoWriMo Debrief
1) The idea I came up with for my revolved around two ideas - tragic/misguided anti-heroes like Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars, Zuko from (my new favorite series) Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Characters that clearly have some good in them but fall victim to their darker nature for one reason or another. Particularly Gollum interested me because the other idea in my story was that of an artifact - similar to the all powerful ring the Lord of the Ring's story revolves around - only with a twist. I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of an artifact that granted its owner powers, but rather than corrupting them as they used/carried it, it forced them to deal with their demons - in other words, an artifact of anti-corruption, or enlightenment.
I won't spoil too much of the story here, in case I ever finish and want people to actually read it, but these ideas organically lead to a fantasy world where magic existed, and was prevalent among to almost anyone willing to study it (I made being a magic-user the equivalent of being a real-life programmer, basically), and I thought it would be interesting to explore a world where it had only recently been discovered, where the limits of magic were still being tested, and the use of it was still very controversial in some circles.
2) Prior to November, I spent many hours meticulously outlining my novel (still technically within the guidelines of NaNoWriMo, in case you were wondering) so I wouldn't get stuck while actually composing the story. And while for the most part I was never at a loss as to where my story was going next, I still got stuck plenty of times just thinking about some of the many details that come with creating a fantasy novel. I was creating a fantasy world, and as such, every original thing I came up with needed a name, a background and a description - if not on paper, then certainly in the back of my mind. Crops, forests, animals, characters, towns, castles, moons (I decided to have three of them), spells, weapons and magical items. This is to say nothing of the particulars of magic itself. How are spells cast? What is the cost of casting a spell? Do you just want to copy everything Rowling and/or Tolkien did? And so on.
If you're thinking about doing NaNoWriMo yourself someday - know that you can never do enough outlining. I bought the book below in October and it helped me out significantly. The book probably would have come in even more handy in September!
3) Having strong characters with clearly defined wants REALLY helped my story. I had a fairly easy time writing conversations and figuring out reactions events in the story, mostly because I had very well-defined characters that bounced off each other in interesting ways. Some of what they were saying almost certainly fell into the realm of cliche - things like my "anti-hero" protagonist brooding nonstop (until I decided he shouldn't do that anymore and having him just stop suddenly), and almost every other character using the term "m'lord" to anyone with a higher status - but uncliche-ing a page is certainly much easier than un-blanking one. And you can quote me on that elegant statement.
4) I did my best to find time whenever I could - lunch breaks, early mornings, late evenings, making up ground on the weekends, etc. (similar to when I was 'Paused,' I work REALLY well on a pre-determined schedule with deadlines) There was no trick, unless you count 'pacing' and 'carving out time every day' as a trick. I finished NaNoWriMo working a full time job, performing improv once a week, taking a writing class and still managing to have a social life. Now, the trick going forward is going to be behaving this way without an artificial deadline!
6) The No Plot? No Problem! novel writing kit - which objectively is like something right out of a 2nd grade teacher's arsenal - worked wonders for me, motivation-wise. It features a pledge that you sign, daily tips/affirmations, and best of all, a little chart to keep track of your daily word count (more on this in a minute). There was something very reaffirming about putting little gold starts on this thing every 2,000 words, and seeing the count go up as the month went on. Would I have finished the month without the kit? Probably. But I wouldn't have been smiling nearly as much the whole time.
7) Being an improviser definitely came in handy this month. For all my plotting and planning, every single actual scene was written in the moment, and sometimes the specific point of the story would change even if my outline dictated otherwise. Two characters that were meant to bond early on actually didn't, and a character that was supposed to be a major villain wound up becoming a much more nuanced character due to all the action happening in the moment. I'm sure I wasn't 100% consistent with my characters in every scene, but I'd like to think everything you're reading makes sense in the moment.
8) I found out I'm pretty good at writing dialogue and action scenes, and pretty bad at writing everything else. Describing environments, details (again, this could be due to lack of planning), and any general "lulls" in my story where my protagonist was just travelling, or in between major scenes wound up feeling a little trite.
Conversely, conversations with my characters always flowed out of me, and actions scenes are just plain fun to write. Those were also, not-so-surprisingly, the times when I'd lose track of time and my current word count and just write without that nagging feeling that I'm composing the first draft of a second rate fantasy. Actually, now that I think about it, the downside to my improviser brain is that I rarely have to think about things besides actions and dialogue on stage, and as such, I was very much working an unused muscle.
Conversely, I could tell things were going slowly when I'd open up the calculator on my computer and start calculating first how much more I had to write that day, that week, the rest of the month, and so on. Also, doing the calculations on this chart were a wonderful way to pretend to be productive while avoiding what the interior of a medieval arena looked like.
10) I really like my story, and I hope to finish it sometime in the next few months, but more than anything this month has shown me (as I was shown last November when I wrote a blog post every day) how much writing I can get done if I'm motivated enough. I already have big plans for my writing in 2012, and I'd like to think, if nothing else, NaNoWriMo was the coup de grâce on a stellar year for me, creatively, that will hopefully lead to more risks and opportunities to come.
11) I would be remiss to not mention my good friend Karen Castelletti, pictured above with adorable pet parakeet (not a parakeet though, right, Karen? Please, correct me) who embarked on this incredibly writing adventure with me. We did a great deal on bonding over the course of this month while we both cheered each other on, answered each other's questions and provided much needed distractions (and in Karen's case, delicious hot chocolate) a few nights every week over the course of NaNoWriMo. Having a friend to do this with was vital, moreso than any other motivational accouterments, and I'm so very grateful to have had someone so smart, so easygoing and so very determined to write alongside me all month long.
Thanks a million Karen!
12) Finally, as you may, recall, I put a sticky note on my highly-anticipated reward copy of Batman: Arkham City that read: "Do Not Open Until You've Finish Your Novel!" which was a misstep on my part, since I didn't even consider the possibility that my novel would be incomplete at the end of the month. But I'm not sticking to the letter of the law here. I just went ahead and amended the note accordingly. And on that (revised) note, I'm going to go ahead and dive into Arkham City right now. Ta-ta!