What I Got out of my First #NaNoWriMo Experience

What I Got Out of my First #NaNoWriMo Experience

I started prepping for my first National Novel Writing Month in mid-October by gathering research and summarizing my chapters and scenes. A little here, a little there, until I had a 38-page word doc outline to run with come November 1st.

I wanted to participate by the rules 100%:

  • Writing Everyday
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  • Logging in and recording my progress
  • Earning my badges for participation as I go
  • Tweeting regularly on the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter @brookeewayne
  • And keeping to the Nov 1st as word-one rule

In the end, it took me twenty-three days to write a 53,838-word novel, sticking to my outline about 95% of the time.

I found it difficult to get started even though I had everything in place. The words just wouldn’t flow at times as easily as I had hoped despite all the prepping I had done to keep that from happening.

LESSON LEARNED: That setback reinforced my belief that no matter what, no matter when, if the inspiration strikes and the words begin to flow, WRITE THEM DOWN! Don’t let the moment pass believing it will return when the ‘time is right’. It won’t.

The pressure of meeting a deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days wore on my nerves harder than I thought it would at first. As soon as I passed the 50K threshold, I could literally feel my shoulders relax when I was typing. Weird.

LESSON LEARNED: When I’m faced with publishing deadlines someday, I need to brace myself for the inevitable psyching-out that will occur. Cue husbandry duties of nightly back massages…happy wife-happy life.

When I rounded the halfway point, I found my stride.

LESSON LEARNED: Keep moving forward, fighting, clawing, and forcing the words out like you’re digging out of your own grave because you will break through.

I also fought the urge to go back and edit, delete, revamp, and mess with the story every step of the way. I even forced myself to wait until the end to run spell check. Yeah, that took a good twenty minutes of my life away.

LESSON LEARNED: I need to go back. I just do. I have to fuss with the way things are written a little before moving on. Not major editing, just, you know, getting that voice down that drives the story. Every word should matter, right? Not doing that along the way made moments of writing forward feel like I was walking on broken glass.

In the end, a story that had begun as an Adult Rom-Com spoof on an 80s throwback story pieced together from actual events in my HS days emerged as a viable YA novel that I am definitely going to polish after it marinades for a couple of months. And I will pitch it alongside the Adult MS I have out now still surviving in the trenches of querying-round-one.

Between now and the revision period, I’m continuing the practice of writing everyday–specifically, I am going to write a sequel to my queried MS. My “break” from writing yesterday that I allotted myself still yielded three sentences to that story already underway just to keep to my promise.

I am proud that I pushed myself to write a second full MS and even more proud that I wrote it through NaNoWriMo, challenging myself when life was ridiculously cluttered with progress reports, parent-teacher conferences, a sinus infection piggybacking the cough & cold flu, while others in my family were tossing their cookies with the stomach flu, and even adding an afterschool club I had decided to run two days a week.

Of all the lessons learned, I discovered I could handle a lot in a short amount of time without going completely crazy.

When a Plotter Plots for #NaNoWriMo

When I was a kid, I used to jot down every poetic couplet or line of dialogue that popped into my head on anything I could get my hands on—gum wrappers, receipts, and even the palm of my hand if my journal wasn’t within reach. Then I’d transcribe everything into my word processor, plugging all of my ideas and bits of writing into documents that I’d groom until they were nice and shiny.

You see, I lived down the street from an author, and she gave me one piece of advice: Write everything down, always.

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So I did.

And I still do.

Since last weekend, I’ve been pulling together all of my scattered ideas into a single Word Docx. I’ve pecked things into my Notes app, scribbled chunks on loose-leaf paper at work, built a secret Pinterest inspiration board, and even scrawled out a ton of ideas in a spiral notebook that I’ve kept on my night stand for those middle-of-the-night gems.

As of today, I have managed to take detailed notes on 90 scenes (87 solid scenes plus 3 skeletal scenes that need a little more fleshing out for purpose), as well as complete my basic research for my time period references–all of which are now neatly tucked away on my laptop (and forever secured in my Apple Time Capsule).

My project that I am working on will be my second full-length novel, but this will be my first time knocking out a rough draft in thirty days through National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo).

I’m a little surprised how easily the plot is falling into place.

Although it’s a lot of truth that’s been exaggerated then marinated in romance, I feel that it’s fresh, original, and promises to be something I’ll be proud of when November 30th rolls around.

I’m definitely a plotter/planner all the way.

Although, I have to say that many times through the process of editing my first novel, I did fly by the seat of my pants in a couple of places.

There’s one scene in my first novel where my MC opens the door and meets a man who causes her to rethink everything she thought she knew about love. This man was not in my plot-packed notebooks. When the front door flew open and this salty, carefree, heart-stopping, smooth talker appeared, I was as surprised as she was, but I went with it. Further edits wiggled him in from the beginning, and he forever defined my main character’s overall arc. Breaking free from being a planner and going with the whole pantser feel was exactly what my novel needed to bring everything together.

I’m not afraid to fly by the seat of my pants through any part of my upcoming novel, but as of this weekend, there’s no way I’ll be wondering what to write next especially when I still have two more weeks to plot away. I’m learning that even though I can safely label myself a plotter/planner, I’m capable of pantsing it, too. Either way, I’m embracing the challenge ahead, writing everything down … as always.

Putting the Creative into your Writing

Everybody is an expert these days. It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published, traditionally published, or hybrid—everybody has something to say about “How To’s” based on experience or simply something cool he or she lifted from Pinterest.

I’ve steered clear of joining the ranks mainly because I don’t have anything published yet. (Uhm, not including all that boring copy I wrote for an encyclopedia set to pay for my MA a long time ago.) Somehow, I got it stuck in my head that until I had earned the title author by means of publication, I wasn’t one.

Then, a few trad pub mentors spanked me for being too unassuming. My mantra has been, “Inspired by Love and Laughter—Aspiring to Write About It,” for almost a year now in my social media outlets.

Cute, huh?

Except for the Aspiring part.

Ouch!

I didn’t even realize how condescending I was being to myself until it was pointed out to me.

Turns out, I’m not aspiring to be a novelist; I am one. I wrote a novel—a big ass novel that at one point weighed in at 100K but is now hovering over 83K. It’s alive and well and hanging out with some agencies for the time being. It might not be published … yet … but someday, it will be.

It’s a lame reason to hold back all the knowledge I know about writing. I get that, but, nonetheless, it did cage me in … for a while.

I sloughed off the “Aspiring” part this week and have decided to add some lessons to my blog posts. I’ve been an English Language Arts teacher for nearly twenty years. I know a thing or two about plot structure, character development, cultivating voice, the importance of arcs in dynamic characters, and layering to reach the ultimate climax. I teach the ancient Hero’s Journey Archetype (not Campbell’s or Vogler’s adaptation—but I am quite familiar) and The Coming of Age Cycle Archetype. I even wrote my MA thesis on the latter to the tune of nearly 140 pages, and don’t even get me started on the value of symbolism in prose (eh-hem, more than just discovering clever names you might have snatched off a baby naming website).

When it comes to my novel, as lighthearted as it is, I aim to have my reader cock an eyebrow and think, “I see what you did there,” as she’s reading. I am still humble enough to know I have a helluva road ahead of me in learning more as an author, but at this point, it’s time for me to start spilling the beans on what I do know.

Rookie novelist that I may be, I actually have a lot to offer, and lately I have had to combat the I’m not worthy feels when pressing send to the agents I am approaching, so to remedy my querying jitters, I am going to start dipping out of my bag of tricks and share some tips that can elevate someone’s writing:

A Lesson on Length: Size Does Matter

Here’s a popular pin from my PINTEREST board: Writing Tool Kit

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If you’ve done Word Press’s Writing 101, you’ll recognize this writing exercise. The assignment was to take the choppy, droning, monotonous cadence of the seven-words-per-sentence prompt and revamp it using varied sentence lengths.

Varying the amount of words per sentence creates a lilting effect for the reader, but rather than packing the lines with extra adjectives and a few unnecessary adverbs to stretch their lengths, I weaved in some poetic devices to bring the setting in the varied lines to life.

ORIGINAL PROMPT:

“The man rode hard through the woods. The black horse’s effort lay in lather. The sun beat down from high overhead. Dark birds circled, drifted, and then returned. The land baked, and dust hung suspended.”

MY INTERPRETATION:

Naked branches tore at the man’s shirt, gnarled and twisted, bending their claws in desperation, as he broke free from the parched woods. They were closing in. A merciless heat beat down on the wasteland. Desolate. Wrought with lifeless wreckage caused by the blistering sun. His black horse, never faltering once, pressed forward upon the scorched riverbed. Hot breath burst from the beast’s flaring nostrils. Closer still. Men’s cries rang out. Their gunshots shattered dark birds against the stark white sky, once drifting in aimless circles. His freedom neared. He could see the border just over the horizon. Sensing the man’s adrenaline, his horse bore down, and dust hung suspended in the wake of their escape.

Personification:

Giving something that doesn’t have a heartbeat life in the form of humanlike characteristics or attributes

naked branches … bending their claws in desperation … parched woods … merciless heat beat down …

Alliteration:

Two or more words beginning with the same consonant, thus creating sound effects

wrought with lifeless wreckage … hot breath burst from the beast’s …

Imagery:

The use of any of the five senses—sight, scent, sound, taste, and touch

(The whole damn thing—okay, okay… here’s my favorite:)

gunshots shattered dark birds against a stark white sky …

Another trick I used in varying my sentence length was to break the rules of grammatically sound sentences and go for some one and two word punches.

… desolate … closer still …

Using poetic devices to add layers to your writing can elevate it in both quality and quantity.

Class dismissed.