Journal, Writing

Personal Pointers from NaNoWriMo

Long time, no post! After promising to do a photo blog-post a day for Nano, I quickly discovered that was a pie in the sky kind of promise, and ended up with only about three or four. Did manage to successfully complete Nano with it’s 50k word count requirement, though it was an intense battle, and the last 10k are mostly me just complaining about how much I hated the story I was trying to write. But, as much as I’m not sure I’ll be doing Nano next year, I did learn some valuable lessons about myself and how I approach (or don’t approach) writing:


1. I avoid world-building. – This is something I recognized in an undefined manner while trying to write the now defunct sf novel in the past 8 years. I don’t fear it so greatly in short stories, but for some reason–and this has only been since I grew up, because as a child I obsessively world-built–I avoid it like the plague in longer works. I think, in part, it’s the scope of the challenge that makes me turn evasive. A novel, and subsequently the world in a novel, is just so huge. Everything intertwines, everything matters, and even the tiniest details have to fit with the rest of the place. This is something I need to work on not being afraid of–after all, much world-building can occur during the construction of the story.

2. I don’t want to shut-up my inner editor. – I’ve learned (see #3 and #4) that I don’t hate my inner editor. I love my inner editor. I love that little gut-feeling that twinges and lingers when I read a scene that just didn’t quite turn out like I wanted. The goal of challenges like Nano is to shut down that inner voice and write through it, but all that does is fill up the page with stuff I’ll have to delete and fix later (which is another motto of Nano: write now, fix it later).

For me, I think my fondness for my inner editor came about as a matter of separating the inner editor from the inner critic. These should not be considered the same person–as is often claimed by many writers, including myself up to a few weeks ago: they have wholly different agendas. The inner editor, the one who taps your shoulder and says: “Are you sure that character would do that? Feels a bit strained.” is the good angel on your shoulder, pointing out when something feels flat, feels unrealistic, feels fake or thin, or just not quite right. The inner critic, on the other hand, is the one throwing out the: “You’re no good at this. Why do you even bother?” self-damnation and discouragement. Forget the critic–s/he’s worthless and has no bearing on what you’re trying to do. But don’t throw out the editor with the scum–s/he’s there to help and to make you better with positive, proactive doubts about what you’ve put on paper. Every time I’ve listened to that gut instinct, my fiction has always been better for it.

3. I am not a pantser. – For those familiar with Nano, there are two kinds of people: pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants and just go!) and planners (those who outline, extensively sometimes, and plan out every twist and turn of their novel). I think I’m neither of these, actually. I think I’m a ponderer, with all the slow deliberation that implies. I’m not a fast writer. I don’t like the “write it now, edit it later” approach, and this, of course, slows me down a lot. I like to really think about what I’m writing, test out the scene on paper once I’ve got it in my head properly, re-read it, taste it, think about it some more, and rewrite it until my inner editor no longer says “Well, it’s good, but…” It’s a gut reaction thing that I’m learning to trust, as much as it slows me down, because I find that when I listen to it, my fiction usually benefits.

Others are much better at the post-rough-draft edit; me, if it’s too rough, I just never bother to come back to it. It’s not a good way for me to write. Being a ponderer doesn’t mean I plan or don’t plan; sometimes it’s a bit of a mix. The only thing it does mean is that I try to really visualize what a scene looks like, what the characters (actors) do, what they say and how it sounds, what else is going on, and what the deeper symbolism is of what they’re doing. It’s exhaustive, and slows down the process a great deal, but I find in the end, I like my first drafts better and am more willing to take that hard, editorial look at them, even as I like them more. And that’s what I’ve always done on the successful stories I’ve liked. I just never realized it before.

4. Don’t read Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing in the midst of Nano. – Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. I perhaps should have thought about it, when I purchased his collection of essays, letters, and interviews, that what he had to say might be contradictory to the philosophy of Nano. It was. And it did make it harder to complete the Nano challenge. That said, I wouldn’t have exchanged the reading of it for anything! Much of what I learned about myself in the above points, I learned while this book, despite being mid-I-need-2.7k-words-today-or-I’ll-never-make-it!”


So NaNoWriMo was not a waste of time for me at all. I learned a lot about how I write, and how I don’t write, and I’m pleased that I finished on time, even if the draft is a hot mess. Just as a quick update on other writing projects, now that I can work on them:

+ Recently signed the contract for my short story, “The Tinselmaster’s Extended Ten-Day” to appear in Daikaijuzine in February 2011!

I’m really thrilled about this sale because “Tinselmaster” is one of my favorite little short stories, and it’s taken a while to find a good home for it that will care for it like I do. Look for it in February!

+ Story on hold at an awesome dark fiction webzine, which I’m giddy about even if it does get rejected in the end.

+ Story–I think–on hold for an upcoming anthology. Rejections for the second cut/formal acceptances should be coming out within the next few weeks, so we’ll see how that goes!

And that’s about it. Happy writing!

2 thoughts on “Personal Pointers from NaNoWriMo”

  1. Interesting to read about the extra personalities you have haha, the inner-critic ánd the inner-editor. I think I have only one being perched on my shoulder, who usually screams and whispers in my ear: my critic/terrorist/saboteur deluxe. Meditation and determination scare him away though. My inner editor kicks in when I don’t hear my music, don’t see my clock, and forget all about reality. Tha Zone. When I’m REALLY writing, not just pretending. Digging in deep, kinda forgetting about yourself and all pretensions, and in that way being more close to the ‘core you’, the creative and hassle-free you.

    And yep you’re right, sometimes you just know the sentence or the paragraph isn’t working. That nagging gut feeling. I’m also a slow writer, sentences won’t change much after I finally get them onto the blank page. Structure though changes mightily, and finding out ‘the why’. Why did I bother, what am I trying to say? That might kill whole passages and demands new ones to be written. Pondering about the why too early kills my determination to write though, to finish a story. I feel trapped or artificial and pull the plug way to early. And the shoulder-demon laughs in triumph.

    My, what a weird art this writing is. :D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s