Post-NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

Hi folks, first off, I’m letting you know that, yes, I am alive. NaNoWriMo took a lot out of me, but I made it in one piece. I’ve had plenty of time to take care of other things in the meantime; plenty of work around the house, for starters. The garage has finally gotten the cleaning out I’ve threatened to give it for ages. As aresult, there’s crap I don’t need anymore advertised for sale on Craigslist, or I’ve donated said crap to Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, or the landfill. Plus there’s been some handiwork around the house I’ve been needing to do. New light fixtures, install a new set of bookshelves, move some furniture around, you know, all the items the missus puts on her Honey Do list.

Additionally, I took my first kickboxing class this past Monday. Only it’s not really strictly kickboxing; the workout incorporates cardio, boxing and kickboxing with
more cardio, and feats of idiotic strength that the likes of the Spartans would have subjected themselves to, and, of course, more cardio. The weight’s been creeping
back on. Oh, hell no. So I got my ass kicked. And I’m going back for more.

So between all that, I’ve barely had enough time to blog, until now.

I’m giving myself some time off from the novel, just to let it stew and simmer in its own juices, or blend in its own cask before it can be poured, like fine wine.
Orson Welles would know.

(Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time. Give yourself a high-five if you remember Orson Welles shilling for this crap table wine.)

I will pick it back up this week, only because the novel’s like some fine-grade Southeast Asian heroin for me, really too good to resist. I’m missing the high from
writing; I’m missing the thrill of the characters of my novel revealing the story for me, rather than me having to dig for the story. Or, as Neil Gaiman once wrote,
“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s
about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both
obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”


In the meantime, the project manager in me is treating my novel writing as a project, natch. As I’ve successfully completed NaNoWriMo – hey, I didn’t say anything
about the novel itself being successfully completed; I just completed something that feels like a 50,000-word novel in 30 days’ time – I can sign off this project as
having been completed successfully. Deadlines were met, deliverables (i.e., my writing toolkit, plenty of caffeine, tons of music, etc.) were both anticipated and
assigned, and traditionally, at the end of projects, a good project manager should perform a “lessons learned” assessment. It’s like an inventory of what went right
and what went wrong, in the hopes that these lessons can be transcribed into future successes in projects to come.

By the way, the answer to that question is no. Anyone who’s ever worked in project management knows no two projects are ever the same. What works in Project A will
fail miserably in Project B, and vice versa. So the “lessons learned” task may seem a bit moot, but for the sake of this blog, and for the post-NaNoWriMo tasks at
hand, here goes:
1. Outline, Outline, Outline:

Much of my October prep work was me working on the outline for the novel, and the outline during November helped me a great deal. Having an outline, for someone who much prefers to wing the living shit out of just about anything, helped me keep the novel’s progress on the road. The outline kept me from writing myself off the rails, plus it was good for me to get into the habit, and learn the discipline of writing an outline and sticking with it.

With that being said…
2. Sometimes You Gotta Toss the Outline Out the Window:

When Eli Manning sees a blitz forming on the line of scrimmage, he’s got to call an audible; change the plan on the fly so as to confuse the defense. Okay, somewhat silly analogy here (“Gus Sanchez is the Eli Manning of Pantsing?”), but my point is sometimes if your story’s going into the rabbit hole, feel free to follow it. Hey, if the rabbit hole worked for Alice, right? At any rate, I pantsed quite a lot during NaNoWriMo, and so much I hadn’t thought of, in terms of story lines and what I really wanted to accomplish with the novel, revealed themselves in ways that an outline didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) demonstrate.

In other words, improvise, my friends.

3. Caffeine Will Always Be Your Best Friend:

I believe this goes without saying. I kept my local Starbucks operating with my near-daily visits/squatting, and when I wasn’t in the mood for coffee, I discovered the sublime joy of Pepsi Next. All the taste of regular Pepsi, without all the calories and half the sugar. Thing is, I seriously dislike both Coke and Pepsi, so how I discovered a jones for Pepsi Next is beyond me, but let’s just say Pepsi Next kept me up many a night.
4. 1,667 Words Per Day is Easy.

Okay, I can see you saying this right now: “But Gus, I have a family, I have a job, I have to run errands, and go to the gym, and blah blah blah.” Yeah, well, I just described my day. You’re going to hate me for saying this, but discipline is the key: having the discipline to write for a few minutes each morning before heading off to work, or write during your lunch break, or during a smoke or coffee break, or for an hour or two after you’ve put the kids to bed and you’ve had sex with your spouse. Wait, you still have sex with your spouse, right?

Anyway – forgive me for being snarky – if you can carve out 1,667 words (coherent sentences or not) in one sitting, that’s great. Me, I was able to do that and then some if I had at least 3 or 4 hours to myself. Otherwise, it was write when I could. A few hundred words for breakfast, a few hundred more during lunch, a thousand more before bedtime, and, voila, my word totals for the day.

However, there were days when writing became an impossible task…
5. Don’t Sweat It If You Lose a Day or Two (Or Even Three or Four) of Writing:

I’m going to bitch about this again – November is a CRAP time to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You’re guaranteed at least a loss of one day’s worth of writing, and if you’ve got one of those big-assed families where you’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles coming from all corners for Thanksgiving, well forget getting some writing done. Plan on losing at least three, maybe four days of writing during NaNoWriMo. Still, 50,000 words in 26 days rounds out to less than 2,000 words per day, and, trust me, it’s doable.
6. Remember, This Is (And Was) Supposed To Be Fun:

If it wasn’t, then ignore what I’m going to say: NaNoWriMo was more fun for me that I could have ever imagined. Partially because I approached this more diligently, but more because I shed this ridiculous notion that writing is supposed to be a painful, soul-crushing, nerve-wracking, doubt-filling process. Nope. If that’s how you (meaning me) approach writing, then it’s always going to be a disappointment for you.

Writing is never going to be easy, and there’ll always be obstacles put in your way. Still, you should always remember that you write because you want to write. If you really want to do something, you do it because you do it out of love. Or the fun of it. Or whatever.
7. Geese That Fly in Formation Fly 40% Faster:

Okay, I’m not getting all Zen Master on you. What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot to be said about the value of encouraging fellow writers on during NaNoWriMo. You’re giving a fellow writer the pep talk they might need to carry on, and in turn there’s another fellow writer who’s giving you the motivation to see your project through. Me, I enjoyed checking my Writing Buddies stats daily. If I saw that (INSERT WRITING BUDDY’S NAME HERE) was fast approaching the 20,000 word mark, and it was only Day 10, then that gave me the incentive to work harder, not give up. When you’ve let everyone, be it friends and family, but most importantly fellow writers, know that you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, you’re likelier to succeed*

So there you have it, my Lessons Learned. Have you, fellow NaNers, any Lessons Learned that you’d like to share?

PS – I know a few of you have nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I haven’t ignored your nominations; it’s just that I haven’t gotten around to re-blogging my post regarding said nominations. So if you’ve nominated me, thank you kindly. I have an excuse; I mean, have you seen how awesome my garage looks right now?

PPS – I have some serious catching-up to do on a lot of your blogs. I promise, I’ll be reading many of my favorite bloggers this week. Pinky swear.
* This fact cannot be verified whatsoever. In fact, I’m pulling this fact out of my ass and passing it off as “fact.”


16 thoughts on “Post-NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

  1. You are SO right! 1,667 words in a day IS easy… but so very difficult to do every day. So glad we both made it to the end! I am just coming out of my post-NaNoWriMo stupor today. Fingers back to keyboard and away we go…

    • Case in point: this blog post was 1,605 words. It took me about an hour and a half to write, edit, and format. If you can carve out the time, you can carve out 1,667 words a day, although I think that’s an unrealistic goal, given not everyone can dedicate themselves to being a full-time writer.

      And get back to blogging, you!

  2. Man, that’s some incredible lessons learned.

    You need to — at some point — knock off the long and honest intro and shorten this into jsut a lessons learned post on your About Me page.

    Seriously, that’s some incredible writing advice, but I worry in its current format that future readers who are just stopping by for a quick glance may not get to the meat of it all.

    Actually, it just occurred to me that this sounds like I’m way too up in your business, but I’ve already typed it and I feel like we’re bro’s, so hopefully you’ll cut me some slack. : )

    • Good advice. I may just do that. I hadn’t visited my About Me page, so I may just edit it to say something about myself, and not my WIP.

      Trust me, I’ve thought of the same thing, but given that I’ve been blogging about my WIP for the better part of 3+ months now, the many who’ve been reading my blog have something of an idea of what I’m writing about. And that’s okay. There’s a time later for publicity. So consider slack being cut.

      • Yeah, editing it to say something about yourself is an even better idea. And thanks for the slack. I can’t wait to see how your finished work cut out, and FYI, this post is so motivating that even last night, after covering a City Council meeting until 11 p.m., I came home and cranked out 916 words, and made serious progress on my latest work.

        So, you’re right when you said that about, “You’re going to hate me for saying this, but discipline is the key: having the discipline to write for a few minutes each morning before heading off to work, or write during your lunch break, or during a smoke or coffee break, or for an hour or two after you’ve put the kids to bed…”

        Granted, I only got three hours sleep last night, but when the big checks come rolling in, I probably won’t mind… : ) (There are big checks scheduled to come in, right?)

        • I know the feeling, brother. There were nights I was literally drooling from exhaustion, yet I managed to bang out at least 700-800 words. Whether those words formed coherent sentences is besides the point.

          Big checks? Wait…I thought we did this for the love of it?

              • Yeah, it’s a thrill and a challenge and a headache and a complete high, all wrapped up into various phases.

                And for me, if I’m not writing, I’m tense and grumpy. I drive my wife crazy. I truly have to write, and I truly want to write — most of the time. : )

                And I point to people like King and Grisham as proof that it’s not about money once you’re completely loaded. And I also point to them, and me, and you and thousands of others who give up sleep and free time to try to make it faster because they’re chasing that big paycheck.

                So, it’ll probably always be both for me. And probably for you, as well.

  3. Dang! Good to know you’re alive (and I wasn’t blackballed). Gus, you described my NaNo findings to a tee. I outlined, but many times my outline flew out the window and I went where the story took me. Now, of course, I have to do some research to figure out all the details to make that little diversion down the rabbit hole work. I put away my story – actually I have tapped out an additional chapter since NaNo – and have been addressing home things like you that I let slide. But I was also only a few months into the blogging world, so I had to keep that up and running since it was just starting to get a foothold.

    It was checking on my buddy list that kept me going, as well. I had a lot of repeat NaNoers on there who kept a good pace. Yeah…I looked to see where you were in the game…uh huh. It didn’t serve as competition, though, but encouragement. If Gus can do it, then you’re damn straight I can do it. I mean…REALLY. :o)

    Good to see you’re alive and kickin’ (great Simple Minds song) and didn’t lay down and die – at least not forever. I see there’s also finally a new post by Amy’ I’ll have to go by there next. She up and died, too. Some of us still had blogging to do. ;o)

    • There were a lot of us NaNers who decided to give ourselves some well-earned time off. It’s actually a solid piece of advice Stephen King gives in his “On Writing” memoir, although he suggests putting the manuscript down for an even longer time – 2, 3, maybe 6 months, even!

      Good to see you’re alive as well. Keep up the great work, Mike!

      • Yeah…just raggin’ on ya. Actually, I’m still exhausted, trying to keep up with it all. Gonna be in that asylum sooner rather than later. Never made it to Amy’s.

        Oh…definitely it’s going to sit and rest…my editing skills are sharp as a Ginsu knives when they read something that seems new (like old work). Makes for a good way to cut a lot of fat and trim it nice when doing the first revision.

        I’m rarely ever serious if I’m sounding harsh…unless I’m critiquing, then I’m not saying it harshly, just honestly (but gently).

  4. Pingback: It’s Not Too Early to Be Thinking About…NaNoWriMo (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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