If you’ve been reading my Tweets, you’ve probably already seen that I crossed the finish line in the National Novel Writing Month. I took advantage of Thanksgiving Break and even managed to wrap it up a couple days early. If I’m using a 5”x8” page spread, I came out with 199 pages worth of a novel, and of course, 50,000 words. Don’t ask me why I didn’t finish that one page to make it 200, but I guess I’m just not obsessive compulsive enough.
I learned a ton in the process. I didn’t expect that it would be such a great learning experience about how to write. I honestly thought it was just going to be an endurance race. But I leave the experience with a heck of a lot more than 199 pages of a book.
One humbling thing I learned is that essay writing and fiction writing are worlds apart. Even being an instructor who teaches fiction (the analysis of it), I found that I didn’t know a lot about what went into writing a novel. It was great to experience it from this side of the equation. And it certainly gave me a lot more respect for the authors who manage to write these things well.
I learned that writing a long piece of fiction is a lot like a balancing act. You’ve got a lot of elements that need to work together in order to keep the story moving and coherent. There’s got to be tension, character development, a plot arc, a setting that is meaningful but doesn’t detract, and intelligent sounding dialogue. It’s much easier to point out when these elements don’t work than to figure out how to remedy the situation.
Another thing I learned was how little control the writer has over the story. I made a nice little outline of what I wanted to happen, but my characters had very different ideas. It was almost as if I was following them along in the story, giving them occasional prods in one direction, but for the most part, letting them tell me where they wanted to go. A very bizarre experience for someone who is very addicted to outlines and planning.
I had a really hard time not going back and editing as I wrote. I’d change things, introduce new facts about a character that contradicted earlier ones, etc, and I wanted to rewrite the earlier chapters to fix it. But I forced myself to keep going, and simply made a note about a change I’d make later. It helped me keep the momentum up, and it also allowed me to just follow the characters without disruption. As much as I am a perfectionist, I think I’ll stick to this method. It kept things moving and interesting.
I could go on and on about the things I learned in the process, but I’ll stop there. For those of you wondering if I’m going to finish the book, I think I will. I’m not going to stick to the same schedule, but I’m going to set some form of schedule to keep me immersed in the story until it’s done. If I go too long away from it, I’m going to forget key elements and spend too much time re-reading what I already wrote.
Thanks so much for your encouragement in this process. Not sure I would have made it without it. There were certainly times when I was very sick of my characters or disappointed with my writing, and I simply wanted to give up. But knowing that people were rooting for me, it kept me going, and got me out of those ruts, onto places where the plot was working, and my characters were likable once more.