Thursday, January 30, 2014

How I lost NaNoWriMo . . . and still won

You’re really not supposed to decide you’re going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) at the last possible minute.

You’re really not supposed to sign up past the last possible minute.

But that’s exactly what I did. Last year, on the first of November, caught up in the excitement of all my friends’ posts on Facebook, I decided, “What the heck! I’m doing it!” and I signed up to write a novel in a month.

Not so crazy
Like I said: this isn’t the recommended procedure. Most people going into NaNo knowing months ahead of time that they’re going to do it. They have time to plot and research and scheme.

But I wasn’t totally crazy: I had an idea, I had a story structure I thought might work – I was even borrowing from the master who borrowed from the masters: if Shakespeare could steal his plots from Italian writers, surely I could steal mine from Shakespeare!

I was taking my favorite play – Twelfth Night – and adding a little magic to grease the rough edges (i.e., to make Orsino not quite such a goober). No need to plot, right? I could just jump into it.

It all seemed like a great idea.

No, actually, still totally crazy
And I actually got some stuff I liked. The fantasy parts were gorgeous. I loved them. It was better than I’d expected, and I felt like I’d finally found a way to do justice to a story I’ve loved for a long time.

But I stalled. Not because I can’t write a novel – at this point, I’ve written at least six of them. And not because I can’t write fiction that fast – I’ve actually written it faster than the NaNoWriMo timeline calls for.

It was because I was ignoring who I actually was: I’m a planner. I don’t do things on a whim.

Oh, occasionally, I’ll just give something a whirl, and that can be fun . . . but my normal mode of operation is to spend some time thinking things through before I make any kind of commitment.

And now I know that there’s a reason for that: it’s because that’s how I work best. Planning ahead plays to my strengths, and it makes up for my weaknesses. Planning lets me dream. Planning lets me tweak. Planning lets the whole project gain depth and nuance and weight. It’s like brewing beer or aging whiskey: time equals taste.

And planning takes away my fear, leaving me ready for the work. Planning lets my anxieties rise, get dealt with, and melt away . . . all before the initial work begins. Then, when I start, I start confidently . . . and that confidence carries me all the way through the thousands of words that stand between me and the end.

Not a waste of time
But I’m still glad I gave NaNo a go on the spur of the moment.

Why? Because I didn’t know all of this about myself until I tried.* All that stuff I wrote above about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to novel-writing? It’s something I didn’t understand that well until I tried to do things differently. Doing things differently let me learn something about myself, and that makes it a win for me.

(In fact, it even makes me think that I ought to stay open to doing things differently in the future - who knows what else I might learn?)

Plus . . . following that instinct to join NaNo got thousands of good words out of me – words that are the perfect start to brainstorming, planning, and plotting the novel that I WILL write . . . that fantastical take on Twelfth Night, the one where Orsino has a reason to fall in love with Viola, and Olivia has a reason to marry Sebastian – even after she knows who he is.

I’m looking forward to it.**

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*Okay, that's not quite true. I totally knew I was a planner. I just didn't realize how deeply that part of my personality affected my novel-writing style!

**Of course, that novel will have to take its place in line - I'm already at the editing stage with one novel, the writing stage with another, and the plotting stage with a third! < --See, that list? More proof of my planning personality. :D

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