3 Things I’ve Learned Posting My NaNo Novel As I Write It

Originally published on Medium, Nov 6, 2020

Welcome to my fourth (third official) NaNoWriMo, where I vow to do scary things that test me as a writer. As if it isn’t scary enough trying to tackle a first draft in 50,000 words in just 30 days.

Each time I’ve taken on the monthly challenge, I’ve tried to challenge myself as a writer and learn something new. Here’s the breakdown.

  1. Discovered NaNo in August of 2018. Had never written a novel before, never thought about fiction, never really written. Did a trial run to see if I was capable of creating characters and writing a story. Wrote it in 10 days.
  2. Officially joined the November challenge 2018. Challenge was to write a sequel since I had never done that before. I had the characters but no plot or story. I wrote ‘the end’ at 83K words on day 14. Challenge part two was to try to finish a standalone book in the remainder of the month, in a new genre, while also writing third person. I finished in January.
  3. November challenge 2019. Write the third book and wrap up the same series I had written in the other two challenges. I had characters and a single scene imagined. It took me the whole month and I barely crossed the finish line with four hours to spare. Discovered that pantsing a series finale was a terrible idea. Eventually rewrote the whole thing in April and June.
  4. November challenge 2020. I prepped more for this one, but I still don’t have an ending. Challenge is to post the chapters as I finish them in the hopes it will motivate me to finish something rough rather than painstakingly wait until the last minute just to restart again later.

This NaNo, I decided to keep it in the family. I’ve written my debut Soul Series in each NaNo challenge and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it again. But I wanted to add a new depth to the challenge. While I was writing in the same world as my previous challenges, I was going to follow new characters with new problems.

But I also wanted to show my writing process for the month. I wanted to give people a glimpse at a story in motion, but also in raw form.

When authors post their work, it’s often edited and rewritten dozens of times, if not more. Readers see the final product; something polished and pretty and often with minimal error.

I wanted to show something that was an actual work in progress. I wanted to show the errors and the misspellings and the terrible grammar (I’m so bad at catching commas). I wanted to hit 50K and not worry about it being ‘ready’ to publish. I wanted to relieve myself of perfection.

It’s a challenge to post something for the world to see when I haven’t done any sort of read-through. I quite literally type it in my document, copy the chapter, and post it without checking for errors. I don’t fix, I just keep going.

And, honestly, that has made this November the most fun I’ve had since 2018’s challenge. Even though we are only a few days into the month, I’ve already found incredible lessons in the adventure.

A chapter of imperfection is better than no chapter at all

Since I’m posting my chapters as I complete them, and my readers expect me to post consistently, I’m forced to just get the words out. It keeps me typing, even if I’m not sure what’s happening. Sometimes I include paragraphs that aren’t quite related to the scene. Often there is conversation that will hit the cutting room floor on my edits. Either way, I’m getting words out; words that give me something to edit.

I can’t edit a blank page. Plus, the goal of the month is to get that word count, not get a perfect book.

There is freedom in following your creative heart

As an author who writes with the intention of publishing books to get paid, I was a bit hesitant about this project. Why would I show people an imperfect piece of fiction? Why am I giving this project away for free if I need people to buy books so I can make a living?

This is the first book in a long time that I haven’t kept secret until publishing. I slave over my books to make sure they are high quality so people will be encouraged to read the rest of my work… and continue paying for it. That sort of process is incredibly stressful, because I’m always worried that I’ll miss something or leave out a word or spell something wrong and lose people’s interest.

But this project is beautiful because I don’t have to stress about getting it right the first time. I can just have fun, play around with my characters, move them through space and make them do things, and relax. I can write a story and enjoy the freedom of following my creative heart, even if it creates a massive plot hole. It’s not the end of the world.

I’m throwing out an incredible amount of fear and letting myself be vulnerable.

I’m discovering things about myself with each new project

You saw it above — with each new NaNo project, I try to challenge myself with something different. Be it genre, storytelling, perspective, or something deeper within the story, I’m trying to give myself something new so I can grow as a writer.

And with each story, I discover new things about myself each time. With the first project, I discovered the novel inside me. I also uncovered a new passion that would soon become my full time career. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Book two showed me that I didn’t have to be a one-and-done author. I had another story, and one that came just as naturally as the previous. I could write a book, even if I didn’t have a plot. It was discovery as I wrote.

Book three allowed me to break out into the unknown. I wrote a more personal story based on my own inner struggles, but I made it into a fiction story that gave me the chance to heal. It was new, it was difficult, but I came out a stronger and more self-confident person. I had three books in me.

As the writing continues, I dig deeper into my soul, my heart, and my mind. I find new things, I challenge myself to open up, and I give my whole spirit to the story I’m writing. Every time I see something new develop in my personality (or, more appropriately, I gain the ability to accept what was already there).

I’m discovering my passion every time I sit down to the keyboard.

You can read my NaNo project, Soul Collapsed, on Wattpad for free. Join my tribe and get fiction updates and character insights.

4 Comments

  1. Cathy Cade

    I don’t do NaNoWriMo. At 70, I have to walk around and do other things during the day or I seize up. And I don’t do it often enough as it is, without having another excuse. But when I posted one of my longer stories on my blog in VERY small episodes, I found that taught me a lot. It was edited to death (and posting in smaller sections–around half a chapter–I found a lot more to edit!). I also needed more points of tension to end each episode (not that it was in any sense a thriller, but you still need a question of some sort).
    Will I publish it? I intend to, once I’ve rewritten it. Somehow exposing it to public view shows up things you miss on your own – even though everyone was very complimentary, you see it with other eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Winter

      I’ve always been able to end my chapters with a small cliffhanger, not in the “a gun went off” style, but a “gah, give me something more” type of feeling. Like, “no, it can’t end there”.

      It’s been… challenging to post unedited chapters. Everything on Wattpad is typed and posted. I’ve seen mistakes already, I know it’s not perfect, but it’s also quite humbling. No one has a perfect first draft, and I wanted to show the difference between a first draft and a final draft. I’ll go back and edit it once it’s done, maybe even use it as a “comparison” blog post or example. I wanted my NaNo to be a good lesson for everyone, including me.

      Liked by 1 person

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