Well, I was proved wrong once again: Participating in National Novel Writing Month was incredibly more challenging and far more rewarding than I ever expected!
I herewith apologize to all my writer friends whose participation in previous NaNoWriMos I discounted — don’t ask if you were one; I’m too embarrassed to say — and now share with you the biggest lessons I learned from participating in NaNoWriMo 2008:
1. It’s not easy to write 50,000 words in 30 days, if those 50K words are ones I want to form the basis of a new work of creative fiction.
I’ve earned my income from writing during my entire career, so the mechanics of generating 50,000 words in a month just didn’t seem like much of a challenge to me. And though I even assumed (correctly!) that 50K creative fiction words are a heck of a lot harder to find deep in the recesses of my imagination than 50K words of business or training documents, what I didn’t understand before is that it isn’t the word-count that’s so challenging (or so important); rather it’s the “idea count.” I ran out of ideas a heck of a lot lot sooner than I ran out of words.
2. The power of group energy is vastly underrated! Without the nearly 120,000 NaNoWriMo writers from all over the world supporting my efforts, I know I would have stopped — probably in the first week.
I tend to follow a rather mystical philosophy of life, so I’m quite aware of all the research and anecdotal evidence showing how two or more people focusing on a single goal can generate exponentially more brainpower. But it was NaNoWriMo that illustrated big-time the amazing power of energy generated by thousands of people with a single focus, despite the fact that these people were separated by thousands of miles, and most never met face to face.
Instead of going to a coffee shop or other typical writing location during NaNoWriMo, I’d log in to Second Life and imagine myself writing at my beach house with my dog Shane, a gift from PennyWhistle Cameron
3. I can make my inner editor shut up (for a while at least)!
As one of the most self-critical people I know, I’ve always provided lush accommodations for that crabby, annoying editor that lives inside me. Usually, whenever Ms. Inner Judge wishes to speak, I listen! But for the month of November, I kicked her out on the street, where she wandered homeless (though still crabby!) for most of those 30 days. Granted, as soon as midnight struck on December 1, she battered down my doors and moved right back in. But I’ve learned I can live without her constant attention, and I’ve instituted a new “quiet time” policy for her and all her friends that prohibits them from making noise 24/7.
4. Using Microsoft Word ors its cousins is the most anti-creative way to write a novel.
Have you ever realized just how many gazillion ways Word, et. al., can distract you from the creative process itself? I start typing, manage to tap out “Chapter One,” when I suddenly remember the tables feature in Word I was going to check out, and then as long as I’m doing that, I might as well see if I can also convert the table to Excel, and oh yeah, which has better sort functions — Word tables or Excel? But the formatting is so much better in Word — which reminds me that I wanted to check out those new fonts I found online, and as long as I’m in the text formatting window, I really should also take another look at how the new fonts mix and match with my existing ones, and now it’s two hours later and all I’ve written for my novel is “Chapter One.” Which leads me to lesson #5. . .
5. A totally blank screen/page and plain old Courier type is the most inspirational word-processing software imaginable.
Thanks to the NaNoWriMo forums, I stumbled upon the best writing software invented since the demise of typewriters: Q10. It was developed by a like-minded NaNoWriMo participant several years ago and combines the beauty of the blank page with all the necessary, mostly hidden, functions, such as word counts. It covers everything on your computer screen — including the task bar with all of its little icons tempting you to read email or surf the ‘Net or play a game or . . . whatever distractions you have there!
The first page of my NaNoWriMo novel on Q10 — looks like a plain piece of paper and sounds like a typewriter!
And best of all, it can produce the symphonic sounds of typing with each keystroke and carriage return. For those of us who grew up with typewriters, rather than computers, those clicks and clacks are like a personal cheerleading squad, and the swoosh of the carriage return after every paragraph is like a standing ovation for determination. (Another similar program touted by many WriMos is WriteMonkey. Both programs are free.)
6. It was way more fun (and supportive) to jump into NaNoWriMo with the great support of fellow writers in Second Life, than it would have been without them.
The NaNoWriMo SL parcel gradually filled with whatever writers in the group felt like setting up, from pillows all over the ground to a guillotine and hanging rope for big-time procrastinators!
One of my most rewarding moments each day was logging in to Second Life, teleporting to the cozy, silly, delightfully cluttered plot of “land” that was home to the NaNoWriMo SL group, and logging in my word count for the day. Invariably, I’d encounter a fellow WriMo, and we’d share our victories and angst, maybe dance for a while atop the old school bus, or just sit quietly in our favorite chair or beanbag and keep each other company as we plugged away at the keyboard. I’ve made many new friends there this month, and the thought of each new writer friend inspires me to keep on writing.
7. Even after years of letting my creative self atrophy amongst the cubicles of Corporate America, my imagination, released from all the chains of “normal” life, can still produce incredible surprises!
This was the biggest lesson of all for me: There still is a creative spark that burns inside me, and fueled by the daring and supportive energy of an event like NaNoWriMo, it can burst into occasional flames of brilliant, beautiful ideas — at least brilliant and beautiful compared with what I previously thought possible.
I am humbled by the generosity of all those who made my NaNoWriMo experience the gift it became — from my friend and fellow novelist David Bridger, who convinced me to sign up and who then got too ill to continue the journey with me this year; to Chris Baty, who invented NaNoWriMo 10 years ago and keeps it going year after year, and all of Chris’s fellow organizers; to published authors like Janet Fitch and Piers Anthony and Meg Cabot who sent us WriMos email pep talks throughout the month; to every writer who has ever participated in this event; and most especially to my fellow Second Life WriMos whose support and humor made it happen.
My reawakened imaginative self thanks you all for the inspiration to create — and even more so for the intestinal fortitude I found to silence my inner editor for those lovely four weeks!
“Yahoo! I did it! I’m one of the 21K+ winners of NaNoWriMo 2008″
And now I can’t wait to begin the revision process (and hope I didn’t piss off that inner editor of mine too much!!!).
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo and if so, how did it go for you? Any lessons to share? Did you use Second Life to support your writing? What were your experiences in SL? Please share with all of us by adding a comment to this post!