NaNo Lessons

November is over. NaNoWriMo is over. I won, by the way, which I guess you can tell by the widget on the right. December is a great time to think about what we’ve learned in the past year. Now that The Woods is steeping for the foreseeable future, I’ll focus on what I learned last month, while writing The Great American Young Adult Novel. Ahem.

When people talk about NaNo, it’s all about a frenzy of words, about muting your inner editor, about speed and quantity. But I’ve learned that I don’t have to rush. I don’t have to focus on quantity over quality. That doesn’t mean I can spend an hour on one sentence, of course. But I can sit and think about what I want to say and how. I can even stop to check on a fact or detail so that I can move forward without leaving a hole that will need to be filled later. There are already plenty of those, anyway.

On the other side, I’ve learned what I need to do better. Physical telling is my nemesis. Too many head nods, and widened eyes, and raised eyebrows, and sighs, and deep breaths, and crossed arms, and smiles, grins, or smirks. Good writers find other ways to add beats between lines of dialogue.

My other crutch is the word “I” in a first person narrative. Way too many sentences begin with I. Sometimes I vary it by starting a sentence with a participle, which I’m always careful not to leave dangling, but too many of those is just as bad. Writer friends, how do you overcome this problem?

In the past I’ve made New Year’s resolutions that involved finding an agent and finishing manuscripts. This time I’m going to focus on craft.

My resolution for 2013 is to find better ways to vary my sentences and add interiority.

If you participated in NaNo, what did you learn this year? If not, what did you learn this past year about yourself?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “NaNo Lessons

  1. I learned a lot this year from NaNo too! I know what you mean about feeling like “I” is all over the place. About 1/2 of the way into NaNO, I re-read the first three chapters of the Hunger Games to see how the author managed to minimize the number of “I”‘s – fascinating. I mean to go back and look at it more detail. How ’bout you do a craft post on it, and I do one, and we compare notes?

  2. Catherine Johnson

    That’s fantastic awareness Vicki. I’m going through a similar phase myself, I just want to read and learn to write better. Are you going to treat yourself to a read now NaNo is done?

  3. It’s so good that you figured out that you do those things. I struggle with them too, and it’s always an ongoing to process to improve my writing.

  4. Congratulations on winning! I didn’t do NaNo, but I did complete a series of tasks for my writing, and feel very good about that. What I learned is that I CAN commit to something for a month & stick with it, so I’m planning to do NaNo next year.
    My key to avoiding sentences beginning with “I” is prepositional phrases. Oh, and I like beginning sentences with verbs, like, “Jumping into the water, I…” But really, any of these can be done too much, so it all falls under the advice of varying sentence structure. I struggle with it, too.

  5. Congrats on finishing NaNo!

    I totally feel you with the crutch words. I like your new goal–improve your craft and the agent, pub deals, etc will follow. Excellent!

  6. OOOOH Yay! Congrats and I just love that you can write a first draft well. Mine are basically plot outlines that need many many rewrites. I guess I write in layers. lol. Is that what I learnt? Maybe.

  7. Congrats for finishing! I know how you feel…I have a lot I want to work on as well. taking the time to work on aspects of craft is always worth the investment!

    Angela

  8. Congrats on finishing NaNo! Sentence variations are always a tough one for me. I think I’ll join you on that 2013 goal.

  9. Great points! But that’s what revision is for. 😀 It’s tricky not to start with the “I” but not impossible. Think of other ways to describe things. I placed the vase on the table could be Water splashed over the sides of the vase as my hands trembled, trying to… That sort of thing!

  10. I love NaNo because it always kicks my writerly self back into a routine. Being a teacher, the fall is always full of beginning of the year demands and my writing time is seriously infringed upon. NaNo shakes things up and refocuses me. Congrats on winning.

  11. Congrats on finishing NaNowrimo!

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