So what did I learn from doing almost half of NaNoWriMo? (My word count on November 30 was 22,230 words, almost all of that written before November 20.)
- to be thinking about writing all the time
- to spend more time writing
- to wrench a big chunk of time back from a) work and b) aimless Net surfing
- to write to understand something I didn’t really understand
- to write without self-censoring
- to be able to read a messy novel draft written by me
Those things have been great. So what I learned is mostly that I want to, and can, do more of them. Except for #6, because I really am not a novelist.
Here are the big takeaways:
- If I can write 1500-1800 words of messy fiction most evenings without really missing the time too much, I can make better use of the evening hours than I usually do when I’m just sitting and staring at the computer. I have tended to dismiss that time as low-focus time, time to recover from the day, but apparently I can focus some–I can produce instead of being a passive receptor. I have also tended to think it is not good time for writing poetry, but I might be wrong about that. Perhaps I should think of it as good time for writing bad drafts–and bad drafts have always been an integral part of my process. It is also possible that this time could be used well for other low-focus work, such as small decluttering projects. Anyway, I’m not saying I’m never going to sit and surf in the evenings, but I’m going to look at the evening hours as time to do something meaningful, even if some nights it’s watching a TV episode with the Snork Maiden, some nights it’s cleaning off a shelf, and some nights it’s working on a poem. I like the way I’ve been forced to examine the default of going on the computer–I can see it’s also been pushing out other forms of recreation, like knitting and reading novels.
- Measurements, goals, and accountability are still very helpful for me. Having that word count to shoot for, having a pal (PymFan, who also did a lot of NaNoing!) to check in with, having an overall goal and crawling toward it in increments–I definitely respond to all of these things.
I did surf and read some during NaNo, just not quite as much as usual, and one of the things I read was an “as told to” with Nicholson Baker in Salon:
But the thing that I found about writing is it’s wonderfully wasteful and that’s part of the usefulness of it. If you write every day, you’re going to write a lot of things that aren’t terribly good, but you’re going to have given things a chance to have their moments of sprouting. After hearing something, you’ll notice something and you’ll write three lines about that and then you’ll let it molder and you’ll forget it. The next time you return to that, you’re already at take one, and take two can expand on that and so even though it’s wasteful, because I write, you know, thousands of pages of stuff that doesn’t ever see the light, it helps me think and it helps me figure out what I actually do want to say in public.
So as the days grow shorter, and the school year accelerates madly toward winter break (which happens in three weeks!), I’m simply going to set myself the task, for December, of using those evening hours mindfully, and of keeping a record of how I use them. I do have various deadlines this month, and it’s not a good time to plunge into a NaNo-style big goal or project, so my first step is just to make small changes, and observe.
On Monday, for example, the Snork Maiden and I won’t get home until around 7, after her sax lesson. I’ll want to go online and check my email and Facebook, but maybe first I’ll draft a bad poem, and maybe afterwards I’ll clear off one small shelf. And whatever I do, I’ll write it down.