Camp NaNoWriMo and the Final Outcome

We have officially reached the final days of Camp NaNoWriMo and my last post in this series. Technically, it goes until the middle of next week, but I figured you guys were tired of hearing about it, and not much is likely to change between now and the actual close of the competition. So I’m gonna call it, throw in the towel, and give you my final verdict on the whole shebang a tiny bit early. Sound good? Good.

What is the final outcome? Did I manage to do the impossible and write the full 50,000 words? Well, that’s a resounding NO. But I’m not sure that’s really the point of Nano anyway. I mean, yes, that’s the goal, but I don’t think it’s the point. I think the point is to learn– learn about yourself, about writing, about stress and time management, about your previously undetected penchant for binge drinking. (No? Not the last one?) Sure, it’s nice if you “win.” But if you don’t manage to cross that 50k word finish line, do you really lose? Does not finishing mean you failed? I guess that depends on how you choose to look at it.

Success is an arbitrary term, defined by a subjective set of measurements. By the definition of the competition’s rules, no, I didn’t succeed. I failed miserably. But that’s just depressing, so I’m choosing to measure my Nano success not by the number of words I managed to write, but by the number of things I managed to learn during the process. Which, you’ll see, is quite a few.

Thanks to Nano, I now know the following:

1) I am not, and likely will never be, a morning person.

By “morning,” I mean early, butt-crack of the day, before the sun rises “morning.” My grand plans of getting up at the same time my husband goes to work, at the ungodly hour of 5 am, lasted for about two days before getting tossed out the window. Turns out, I’m just not functional before 7:30. The couple days I did manage to resist the siren’s call of the bed resulted in a complete lack of productivity and feeling like a zombie for the rest of the day. So I decided it wasn’t worth it and reverted to burrowing back under the covers for an extra hour and a half cat-nap. Lazy? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as self-aware. 😉

I can now say with 100% certainty that my optimal creative time is between the hours of 8 and 11:30 am. (Right smack when I have to be at work. Lucky me!) After that, I battle with Food Comas and the Afternoon Blahs and am really pretty useless until about 5 pm. (Mexico has it right with the whole siesta thing. Maybe I’ll move down there.) I think, if given a lifestyle that allowed it, I would probably find I’m a night owl like my mom. But for now, I’m stuck wishing I had a brain-cells optional job that conveniently needed me only in the afternoon.

2) Nano isn’t really intended for adults.

Let’s face it, being a grown-up is extremely over-rated. Why we spend our childhoods fervently wishing to grow up so we can be saddled with responsibility, burdened by debt and shackled to jobs we hate, I’ll never understand. But I’m just as guilty as everyone else for wishing it and not a day goes by that I wouldn’t give just about anything for a do-over, for a chance to be 16 again and have the boat-loads of time I wasted back.

But I’m getting off track.

I noticed that most of the successful people in our REUTS Publications team competition were young. Teenagers, actually. Which immediately turned my jaded 31 year old self into an emerald of jealousy. Of course they stomped on me! What else do they have to do in the middle of summer? Even if they are working, legally, their hours are limited to hobby status rather than the mind-numbing tedium of a full time job (or three, in my case.) So they have the time to dedicate to churning out insane amounts of words in a short period of time. Therefore, it’s my firm belief that Nano was formed with them in mind, because the rest of us will find it nearly impossible to carve out enough time between family, work, housekeeping/life maintenance, etc. to keep up with the word count requirements necessary to win. And yes, I am a little bitter about that.

3) Plotting works better than Pantsing.

I haven’t outlined in years. Well, aside from a loose blocking-in of scenes so I don’t wander completely off the reservation while writing. But in terms of a true outline? I think the last time I wrote one was in like 2006. So I’ve obviously considered myself a Pantser. (For those non-literary folks in the audience, a Pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants, as opposed to a Plotter, who maps everything out ahead of time.) But I knew going into Nano that I didn’t have a chance in hell of actually reaching the goal if I continued that way. So I opted to set aside the complexity of my current projects and work on something different. Something old.

That’s right, I dredged up that outline from 2006 for what could be considered a standard Fairy Tale and proceeded to have at it. Guess what I found? It’s easier to write when you know where you’re going with it! (Hello, Captain Obvious.) Because I knew this story’s plot inside and out, I didn’t have to waste time trying to figure out what came next and just focused on the characters. The result? 868 words in less than an hour. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to most of you, but that’s a personal best for me. Normally, it would have taken about a week to get that much done on Unmoving. So I definitely recommend becoming a Plotter if you’re going to give Nano a try. I may even be jumping the fence to Plotter-ville permanently after seeing the difference it made in my productivity.

4) Technology is your best friend.

If you, like me, don’t have the luxury of being a teenager or a full-time writer, then listen carefully to this next bit– Technology is your best friend. Seriously. I would never have been able to squeeze in as much as I did without the aid of cloud-computing, smart phones and an iPad. Thanks to Google Docs (which I highly recommend), I literally carried my manuscript in my pocket, so whenever I had even 30 seconds to jot down a couple of words while sitting in traffic, I could. (I don’t actually advocate that. Texting and driving is bad. Don’t do it.) Pretty much everything I wrote happened while waiting to pick up the hubby from work, during my lunch break, while I cooked dinner or just about any other moment I could steal away between tasks. Technology is a beautiful thing, people. Embrace it.

Those are just a few of the lessons I’m walking away from Nano with, along with things like:

  • Writing action in first person is ridiculously difficult.
  • I can actually spew out a rough draft that isn’t complete crap– just mostly crap.
  • Energy Drinks are toxic and will make you look like a tweaker. (I already knew that, but it was reiterated.)
  • Simple narratives are fun but will inevitably try to complicate themselves.
  • Nano is quite possibly the best and worst thing any writer can attempt.

All in all? I’m glad I was forced to give Nano a try. Even though I didn’t win, I feel like I learned some really valuable lessons, things I hope will work to my advantage now that I’m free to return to my normal sloth-like pace. So believe it or not, I actually recommend it. There’s another one coming up in November. Give it a shot and see what things you’ll learn about yourself in the process. And for those of you who’ve already done it, what lessons did you come away with? Did any of them stick?


13 thoughts on “Camp NaNoWriMo and the Final Outcome

  1. Forget the advice here (okay, don’t forget it exactly but set it aside for a moment.) This is a fun piece of writing. I laughed out loud a couple of times. And then I actually had a moment in which I thought I might pick up fiction writing again and work on my novel. I might actually try and plot out the end instead of pantsing it. Thanks, Kisa.

    • Thanks Kym! I’m glad you enjoyed it. (Did you read the previous three I wrote about Nano? Personally, I think a couple of them were funnier, so if you have time, maybe browse through the previous posts. 😉 )

      More importantly, though, I’m glad you found it inspiring. That was my ultimate goal here. I wanted to make Nano seem less daunting (although it’s definitely still an intense endeavor that I may or may not ever try again) and to encourage fellow writers to try it out at least once. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned about my own writing process, even from my half-hearted attempt at it. I can only imagine that actually completing the whole thing would be even more enlightening. It’s kind of like a black belt test in that regard– the anticipation is scarier than the actual thing, although once it’s over, you’re pretty sure you’ll never ever ever do it again! Lol.

  2. November is just about the worst month for college students, too. I “won” Nano in ’04, but school didn’t help. Maybe I should give the aspiring writers in my classes less homework in November.

    My wife tells me she’s jealous that I have the summer off, although since I do most my writing between 11pm and 3am, I don’t think that matters so much.

    • I think November is the worst possible month they could have picked honestly. Which is why I’ll probably stick to the “camp” versions in April and July if I feel like trying it again. 😉

      Congrats on conquering it once though. Do you still use any of the lessons you learned from it in your current writing process?

      • Yes, I’m sure it is. Look where it’s taken you– one book published and another in process. Definitely not a bad thing to have learned from Nano. Maybe I’ll get to say that someday too. 😉

      • Maybe two in process! I’m keeping an eye on the “Mara of the Ori” monthly riddles. I got quite a bit of positive feedback on the first one. If it turns out to be a popular feature, I may publish 12 online, write 12 brand new ones, and package all 24 in a standalone book.

        BTW, (off-topic), There’s a girl at my wife’s library that wanted to meet me and ask me about publishing. I think she’s more interested in traditional publishing. Do you have any advice on what editors look for, what makes a strong query letter, etc – or any recommended books, etc, on the subject? I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of what to and not to do as an editor at Reuts. I think she may have a YA novel, if that matters.

      • I think the riddles are a splendid idea! I love riddles, I’m just not good at them. Lol. But what a fun extra to go with your series! 🙂

        As for the girl at your wife’s library, I do indeed have some insight I could offer, especially if she is writing YA. It’s more info than would be appropriate to post here, but feel free to give her my email address. I’d be happy to answer any questions she might have. Between the two of us, I’m sure we could offer her more than she ever wanted to know. 😉

  3. I tried the actual NaNoWriMo twice, and crashed horrendously on both occasions. November is just not a good month when you’re at uni, as it turns out.

    Agreed with #2 and #3, but particularly the latter. I’ve found that pantsing works fine for short works, but for novels it never seems to work. I plan and outline nowadays, and really wish I’d started doing so sooner.

    • I wonder why they decided to make November National Novel Writing Month? The consensus of writers seems to be that it’s the worst possible time they could’ve chosen. Makes you wonder if it was because November was the only month left, which then begs the observation that maybe it wasn’t taken for a reason? Lol.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting. It’s nice to know that my experience seems to be in line with what other people have learned. 🙂

  4. My main learning from last NaNo was that I only have it in me to complete two days of NaNo. After that I lost one day entirely, spent one more fretting about how behind I was, another working on a plot outline and by that time, we were a week in and I had no choice but to resign. Either that or leave my other half, burn the TV, renounce eating, sleeping and working and sequester myself away in a squalid Parisian garret with nothing but a notebook, several pens and twenty litres of absinthe. So I resigned. I keep thinking about doing it this year instead, but when the urge takes me, I stab myself repeatedly in the eye with a fork until it goes away again.

    • Hahahah! I totally just laughed out loud. Thank you for that. I needed a good laugh today. 🙂

      Sounds an awful lot like what happened to me. Except I was too stubborn to quit after I lost that first week. Needless to say, I never did recover that lost momentum. I’ll have to keep your fork in the eye trick in mind next time I think attempting Nano is a good idea. ;P

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