NaNoWriMo Debriefing

Fifty thousand, seven hundred and forty words later, I am a proud 2008 NaNoWriMo winner, which basically means that I can post cool graphics on my blog attesting to that fact and, if I’m jonesing for concrete validation, I can download a certificate to print out. But it’s not like I didn’t know that going in. NaNoWriMo is a personal challenge. It’s also conducted on the honor system. The computer bots don’t know whether the file I uploaded for validation is my actual book or just a whole bunch of that lorem ipsum gobbledegook pasted over and over and over, so it’s up to me to submit the real thing, which I did.

This book was the first one I’ve ever written where I didn’t have a solid idea of where the story was going to go before I started. Normally, I have a very clear picture in my head of an opening scene and a very clear picture of a closing scene, with a lot of territory to fill in. This book started with a title and a tagline. The title is basically a smart-alecky play on words and connects to two other titles, equally smart-alecky, designed to tell the stories of three different women who have been best friends since college. Belle on Wheels, this year’s book, is Lucy’s story.

When I sat down with my laptop on November 1, I knew Lucy’s name, where she worked, and what her major issue happened to be. I’d worked for about a week on some ideas. Random cards pulled from The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit helped me nail down the internal and external conflict lines. Along the way, Lucy gained an alcoholic father, a daughter with a secret, an ex-lover, a scheming ex-stepdaughter, and three ruined marriages. Someone basically not at all like me, which made her very fun to write.

I discovered that early morning is my very best time. My house starts up early anyway, so I’d get up around five and write for an hour before waking up Frick so he can make the bus on time. Most mornings, I’d write around a thousand words in an hour. Not bad, considering I didn’t have much of a plan. Many of the plot elements emerged as I went along and made things more interesting for her and for me.

Now the trick is to get the revision accomplished. I’ve done NaNo for the past three years now, with two wins and a 40K “failure” to my credit. Basically, I have three drafts of three very different books, and none of them are complete. Before NaNo, I tended to percolate on my stories until I was pretty happy with the direction of the chapter, then I’d write the whole chapter. What emerged was usually pretty clean, so revision was fun. With NaNo, though, I have a complete story arc. Retraining my brain to accept very sloppy draft (since my previous drafts have been much, much tighter) has been a struggle. But as Buttercup reminded me, “It may be a mess, but at least you have a novel written.” Point taken. Now I have to work on a new way of refining said novel.

Another insight was changing my software. For years, I’ve used AppleWorks for all my word processing. I finally bowed to the masses and bought a copy of Word (under protest). But Word was not the magic key. The magic came from an inexpensive piece of software for writers called Scrivener. It. Is. So. Kewl. Scrivener lets you plan on virtual notecards, move them around on a virtual corkboard–great for when you realize a scene is in the wrong place–move the card, and all the text you’ve written for that scene moves with it. No more cut and paste! Somehow, writing those thousand-word chunks in a text file attached to a card was so much easier than scrolling through pages and pages of a Word file. Yes, I know you can do that with anchors, but Scrivener’s interface was just so much more intuitive and wonderful. Plus, at $39.95 for a full copy, it’s a steal. If you have a Mac, zip over to Literature and Latte and download a free trial. It was a godsend this year.

So a couple of days off (maybe–I came up with an idea this morning while brushing my teeth, so I need to make it happen before it evaporates), and then on to the revision. Maybe I’ll try a couple of books at one time. I have some great mojo working for me.

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