5 things I learned from NaNoWriMo

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll already know that I took part in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I didn’t want to write a novel this time (I’m still working on my Guardians trilogy that I started in 2011!) so instead I focused on simply writing every day using a handy prompt sheet by Eva Deverell.

This challenge had two parts:

  1. write every day
  2. write an independent short piece every day

I’m rather verbose so Eva’s prompt sheet for flash fiction (less than 750 words) seemed an ideal way to practice brevity.

I posted my progress every day on Twitter. My word count crept up a few times but I managed not to go over and, for the most part, kept it below 500.

As the month progressed, I also realised something I should have known all along: short fiction suits me.

Why do the challenge?

The problem I’ve always had with novel-writing is stamina. I’m not just talking about motivation or the desire to ‘just keep writing’, though that’s a tough enough issue all its own. Instead, I’m talking about things like this:

  • Sometimes, I start writing a novel at the beginning and can’t figure out how to end it.
  • Sometimes I start with the end and can’t figure out the beginning or how they got there.
  • Sometimes, the important plot points solve themselves, but I can’t figure out how to shape the novel around them.
  • And sometimes, I have plenty of ideas for what fanfic writers would call ‘drabbles’ or character studies, but they don’t really relate to the story at all.
  • Sometimes, I don’t even want to spend all that time on a single character or world or story.
  • Sometimes I just want to write and not worry about where it’s going or how long it will take to get there.

What did I learn from Camp NaNoWriMo?

1. Writing is easier if you don’t have to come up with ideas

The only reason I managed to write every day through April was Eva Deverell’s prompts.

If I’d been left to my own devices, I would have spent a few minutes every morning trying to come up with ideas, only to give up in frustration.

I’ve always scorned prompts before, not because I thought they were ridiculous (they’re very helpful) but because I never really needed them myself.

I was very glad for them this time. Some were less inspiring than others but I couldn’t have done it without them.

2. Writing is easier if you don’t have to worry about the ending

I wanted each day’s fic to be a complete story (beginning, middle and end) but I didn’t want to spend any time plotting. I didn’t want to worry how characters got from A to B.

Not fretting over it made it easier to consider a story ‘complete’, which made it easier to start on the next day’s fic without guilt (which made it easier to write).

Of course, this doesn’t mean writing novels will get easier. They still need actual endings. But it’s nice to know I can finish a story without really trying, even if it’s not your typical “ending”.

3. I enjoy writing Flash Fiction as much as I like worldbuilding and writing novels

I love writing. I love writing novels. I especially love building words, both for myself and others to play in.

But they’re both very taxing. Worldbuilding isn’t really something you can just pick up one day and write something random; it all ties together. Likewise, you can’t write a chapter of a novel independent from all the rest. You have to remember, and fit all the pieces together, and research.

Writing flash fiction is different. It’s freeing. It’s fun in a way that novel writing and worldbuilding can’t be because they’re so complex.

4. Writing characters is easier if you don’t have to stress over getting the names right

Characters have to be equally complex if they’re going to be sympathetic and believable. I struggle with them just as much as I do with plot, largely because (among other things) getting the names wrong can destroy motivation and make me feel like I’m writing the wrong story for the wrong people.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to rework a story entirely just because I’ve altered the spelling of the original main character’s name, and I’ve spent hours brainstorming variations to get the perfect version for even a minor character or else I can’t write them at all.

That’s just how important names are to me.

Usually, at least. Somehow, writing flash fiction meant that it didn’t matter what the characters were called. I sat for a second and let a name pop into my head, and I used that name and didn’t worry if it was wrong or if it fit or if it sounded stupid.

Weirdly, I don’t think I ever used the same name twice. My brain is pretty good at coming up with random stuff like that if left to its own devices.

5. It’s nice to just write and not have a purpose

So much of the writing advice I see includes the phrases, “write every day” and “maintain a writer’s journal”.

I did that for a long time, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t think of anything to write.

It’s been so long since I kept a writing notebook, actually, that I’d forgotten just how much fun it is to just write for the sake of writing and not because there’s a goal.

Will I keep it up? Probably not. This month has been exhausting. I need a break before I can consider my next step.

But it has reminded me why I like to write. It’s reminded me that I can have fun working on my novels even though I do hope to get them published. It’s reminded me that, actually, writing should be fun no matter what the end-game.

Working on other things has also rejuvenated some of my excitement for both Elysian Fields and my Guardians trilogy.

We’ll see what that means once I’ve recovered. ;D

Did you write this month?

How did your April go? Did you get everything done that you wanted to do?

Most of all, did you have fun?

5 things I learned from NANOWRIMO


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