My First NaNoWriMo Experience

J. M. DeSantis: My First NaNoWriMo Experience
Everything is an experience; I truly believe that. I don’t know that we always learn something, not consciously anyway, but experience alone is something to be valued. It helps inform decisions, makes us more confident, and adds a natural thrill and interest to life. It’s one of the things I love best about living. I love experiencing things, and in this way I take the good with the bad.

As I previously announced, I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time last month. And though I didn’t complete the challenge (to write 50,000 words by 30 November), I got a lot out of the experience, in some ways more valuable than a first draft of a novel—though indeed I would have liked that too.

For what it’s worth, I took on the challenge because I’ve had a number of novels developing for a variation of years (and by developing, I mean that I’ve been writing notes for each of them as ideas come to me or thinking of them, here and there), but comic work has been nearly my sole occupation creatively for about five years now. And though I love combining my art and my writing together, I miss writing prose.

What’s more, a writer friend of mine (Mr. Patrick Silvestri) mentioned NaNoWriMo to me years ago. True to my love for experiencing things, if you don’t know me and my work, I also love to experiment. It’s how I grow as a creator, trying out new things, whether I’m convinced the old things work well or not. I’m never satisfied, and I’m always challenging myself. And whether I succeed or not, I learn something from the attempt. So, I was eager to try NaNoWriMo for a while now, but never seemed to have the time in November until I made a conscious effort to plan for it this year.

With this spirit, I dove into NaNoWriMo with a vague synopsis and notes for one of said novels. I’m a bit of a planner. I find pre-writing saves me the trouble of heavy edits later, and I’m more satisfied with the story both as I’m writing it and at the end of the first draft. There’s a lot of uncertainty that occurs (usually in the beginning and mostly in the middle) if I don’t plan—and yes, I have tried writing things without any plan; again, true to form, I like to experiment to see what works best for me.

I started out the month strong, though quickly began to lose my story. I went back, wrote more notes, a fuller outline, new scenes, character bios (the one sort of pre-writing I don’t care for very much), and forged ahead. I stopped again and restarted. Then I began to panic—an apparent symptom of the NaNoWriMo challenge about halfway through the month, and something I’m given to do anyway, as are most writers, mid-creation.

I turned to the community on to lament my woes. I was given helpful advice and encouragement (and my thanks again to everyone who offered their help). And in the midst of this, I had a breakthrough with the invented world connected both to the story I was working on (it’s a fantasy novel, by the way) and my Chadhiyana comic series (though their connections are loose, for my excited and patient Chadhiyana fans).

With that sudden breakthrough, I turned from the novel and worked on the world itself, and found myself happier for it, as much of the stress over the novel was over how it would fit into the world as I’ve developed it for years (I tend to over think, and if you’ve read my blog, that might be clear enough).

So, although I didn’t come out of NaNoWriMo with a completed novel, I did write quite a lot during the month, and at different times and places during the day (different than I usually mark out for writing). More, I was able to (through experience and work) learn more about my creative process, get the novel in a more tangible form, and figure out something with my invented world which has (up to this point) been very difficult to come up with a solution for, and only through writing did I finally work it out.

Additionally, though I write every day, the month opened my eyes to ways in which my work schedule was perhaps making it more difficult to get more writing done—or at least I perceived it that way—and what adjustments I could make for greater ease and flexibility. After all, following my seeming break from creating for a few months earlier this year, my schedule, work habits, and even my perceptions thereof have been a focus of mine. So again, the experience of NaNoWriMo was in some ways more valuable at this moment than a completed first draft of a novel.

That said, for all who were hoping I’d come out of the month announcing a new novel, know that I intend to finish the project; it’s just going to take a bit more time. There are a few smaller writing projects I had planned for December and January which I wish to work on first (and in retrospect, I might have tackled them earlier, had I known). I’ll return to the novel following those months or those projects, whichever comes first.

So the novel will be completed, and more despite not completing the challenge, I’m going to attempt it again next year. After all, I think it’s a wonderful challenge, and one that I’d like to complete. With that, I would also encourage every writer to at least try it out to see what they can get out of it, if not 50,000 words. After all, sometimes experience alone can be the greatest gift of all, and if there’s any regret I have for NaNoWriMo, it’s not having made the attempt when I first heard about it five or so years ago. But such is also often the case with experiences…

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