Things I learned about myself during Nanowrimo

So, I just finished Nanowrimo around 51, 029 words, according to their word counter. It’s been a wild experience, and I’m actually kind of surprised that I managed to pull it off, despite a lot of (personal) obstacles in my way. Here are some lessons I learned during the writing process.

1. I’m really bad at being consistent

If you look at my stats, there will be stretches of days where I don’t write a single word. It’s not necessarily for lack of trying, however. I’ll sit at the computer staring at the blank Notepad, and I’ll type a paragraph in an hour and just give up. Then, there will be days where I’m writing 6,000 – 10,000 words in a day. I’m on fire and excited and this will last for a while until it dies out again and I go back into writing hibernation.

I’m not sure how to either mitigate this or work around it. I’ve noticed that the days I sit longer at the computer, I’ll actually type something, even if I hate it. But I don’t know if I should embrace this cycle instead and spend days I’m not writing planning what I want to write. It’s a learning process, trying to write (somewhat) full-time that I’m frankly not used to.

2. I love Notepad over Google Docs

Google Docs is awesome for writers – everything is in the cloud, and as long as you have an internet connection (well, a reasonable internet connection anyway; ask Milk11 about trying to use the KCLS computers to work on her story), you can work on your stuff. I know for a fact that during the dead stretches of his job, my friend David works on his writing with Google Docs. And I’ll admit, it’s terribly useful.

But there’s something about Notepad that is just amazingly simple to me. I usually maximize it, so that all I can see is the window bar at the top and blank space below. It covers up my Chrome tabs and other distractions. There’s no blank space or margins. You just start writing and over time, your entire screen is filled with words. It’s incredibly Zen for me.

There are times when I wish I used Google Docs more, especially in times of finding myself without my laptop, but overall, the ability of Notepad to cover up everything else on my computer so that I can concentrate solely on my writing has saved me several times during the Nanowrimo process from reading something online instead.

3. I don’t feel changed at all, and I don’t know if this should disturb me or not

One time, while traveling in Korea, I had a near death experience. Despite the excruciating pain, I was strangely at peace with the idea of just dying. After the experience, I didn’t feel any kind of new lease on life. I acted the same way I did before. I felt kind of cheated, as if a near-death experience would automatically turn me into a more grateful, awesome person.

I came to two available conclusions: (1) I’m already a pretty grateful, awesome person (unlikely), or (2) there is no such thing as easy changes in life.

I feel the same way after Nanowrimo. To me, Nanowrimo was a rite of passage. Half-way through, ten thousand words behind with no end in sight, I was sorely tempted to give up. However, the one burning drive was to say, for once in my life, I did it. I completed Nanowrimo. And so I persevered. And don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment, but I had expected some kind of enlightening experience, as if the Greek muses themselves would come down and visit me as I typed that 50,000th word.

Instead, I feel very much the same. Happy, but also relieved and slightly exhausted. Before Nanowrimo, I would stare at the stack of note cards sitting on my desk where each one has a kernel of an idea to write about, and fantasize about success and fame and fortune and whatever my wild imagination could think of. Maybe with Nanowrimo, I was hoping to find the glorious secret of writing so that I could find success and fame and fortune and validation, that maybe if I finish, I could find that nirvana truth of writing that must only be earned through hard work, sweat, tears, and possibly blood. In the end, that is the secret. Writing is hard work, and it’s continuous, tedious, and a lot like grinding in World of Warcraft.

I suppose the one thing that has changed within me is that when I stare at that stack of note cards, I’m no longer filled with fantastical dreams of my name in proverbial lights. I think to myself, there’s no secret. You just have to sit down and do the research and write. I see long nights of writing while my wife sleeps next to my desk. I see frustrating afternoons staring at Notepad, wondering how to even begin. And, of course, I now have much more realistic expectations of what to get at the end. I no longer write for fame and fortune and validation.

I write because if I don’t write these stories, who will?

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8 Comments

Filed under life stories, wordsmithing

8 responses to “Things I learned about myself during Nanowrimo

  1. dteeps

    Just to clarify — it doesn’t really mean anything, but I didn’t actually use Googledocs for NaNoWriMo. I have used it in the past for plays and such that I was writing and wanted to be able to work on from work, school, and home. But for NaNoWriMo i just used regular old Microsoft Word — and Dropbox! Dropbox is an amazing tool to sync documents across multiple computers and allows access to documents online. You should really look into it, the first 2GB are free! It was unbelievably helpful.
    And ‘grats on finishing! I look forward to reading that novel!

    • Ted

      Egg on my face. And I will look into Dropbox – I have heard other writers heartily endorse it, so it must be good, right? Right?!

  2. dteeps

    No hard feelings, I didn’t mean to sound harsh – just to mention a wonderful tool I have used.

  3. Pingback: Writing Wednesday, The NaNoWriMo Wrap-up « Catchy Title Goes Here

  4. Check out WriteRoom. It is a pretty cool “block every else out” writing program. Using it makes me feel like one of those cool retro writers, like the guy at the end of the movie Stand by Me. Which then makes me think my writing definitely has deep, relevant meaning like the story told in that movie. It’s psychological trickery, for sure, but some pretty damn good trickery at least.

    Only problem is, it’s a Mac only program. Here’s the link, though, in case you wanna check it out: http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

  5. That’s an interesting thought about how there are no ‘easy’ changes.

    While I’m not sure that I’m actually disagreeing or agreeing with you, my mission president taught us about life changes– and what he presented feels very believable to me. He said there are 3 kinds:
    Temporary: these are the stereotypical new year’s resolutions, they last anywhere from minutes to months.
    Transitional: these are permanent, but they take months, years, or even decades to achieve
    Transformational: these are 180 degree turns. They are permanent. They completely change the individual’s paradigm and outlook on life. He asked us how long they take. We all said things like ‘a lifetime’. He didn’t tell us we were wrong, but when it was quiet, he enlightened us with one word. “Moments.”

    At this point, I had already experienced this kind of change in one small thing– and largely for that reason, he convinced me it was true.

    Just a thought.

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