Friday, November 5, 2010

Why NaNoWriMo Works (For Me)

As I said yesterday, NaNoWriMo’s primary gift to its participants is that of motivation. I am a prime and successful example of this principle. You see, I have two major motivations: accolades and accountability.

Accolades are obvious. I like feedback. I like hearing people tell me what they like about my work, what they don’t like about my work, what struck them as interesting or hit them emotionally and stayed with them for days. This is one of my favorite parts of writing. Sure, I love the pure creativity of telling a good story, but what’s the point of telling that story if nobody else is listening?

My motivation through accolades is why I’ve managed to write 3 billion words of fan fiction in the last 8 years, but am only now writing original work. People are more willing to give amateur writing a shot if it’s done with characters that they know. Likewise, this is why I love critique groups: getting regular feedback on my original work gives me the motivation to, well, work on it.

As I said yesterday, NaNoWriMo gives an opportunity for accolades aplenty through its forum community. No matter what year you apply, you’ll always find a bunch of critique threads to review others’ synopsis or excerpt; or even threads just dedicated to reading these things. That’s half the fun. And a lot of people who aren’t really considering publication make a habit of exchanging novels with their NaNo buddies. So, like I said: accolades galore, which makes the process easier.

The other half of my motivation comes from accountability, which is a little more complicated to explain. You see, I don’t hold myself to particularly high standards if I’m the results are nothing but strictly personal things. My room tends to fall into a state of disrepair because I’m the only one who lives there, so I don’t care how it looks.

But when somebody else gives me a standard or goal to live up to, I will do everything I can to meet (and hopefully surpass) their expectations. I almost never write short stories on my own, but when my teacher says, “Write a short story because it’ll have an impact on your grade” I can churn out one a month. Likewise, I didn’t really have any interest in coming to college – in fact, I was completely neutral on the subject – but because those were the standards my parents set for my education, I went with it, to my benefit.

Now, at any time during the year, I could totally set a word count goal and try to work towards it. In fact, I do that fairly regularly; however, I always fall off the wagon within a few days. Why? Because there is no one to hold me accountable, so I tend to drop the idea with the first hiccup I hit.

But just like the NaNo site suggests, the more people who expect you to succeed, the better of you do. As for me, when I’m held accountable, it almost always turns out in my favor.

Take this year’s NaNo for example. To be honest, during this last week I haven’t felt particularly enthusiastic about this project. I’ve been plotting and talking about it for something like half a year now, but when I finally sat down to work on it I found that I didn’t like what I was doing. Of the first four scenes – about 20 pages and 3 days of work – I was cringing at the end of every writing session, because I knew that this beginning was just that bad.

To compound things, about a week before NaNo began I got the seed of a completely different concept than what I’ve been plotting all this time, and it has since blossomed into a full-fledged trilogy idea that I’m itching to get my hands on. If I was doing this entire thing on my own, I would totally scrap Aurora and get to work on that damn trilogy. But, because I’ve filled out all the stuff on the NaNo website and have been talking about this with people on the forums all this time, I didn’t just want to switch at the last minute. The fact that several of the people who friended me did so because they thought the story was awesome and wanted to see how it turned out held me accountable.

So, instead of discarded Aurorae, I resolved to follow through with the NaNo experience. If, at the end of the month, I still felt like I was holding 50,000 words of crap, I would turn the entire project into a “trunk novel” and come back to it in a few years, once I had the exciting trilogy of awesomeness completed.

Then, last night, I had a sudden breakthrough. I realized that the scene I’d just written to start of Chapter 3 was, in fact, the scene I should have started the entire novel with from the very beginning. In fact, Chapter 3 was really Chapter 1, while the Chapters 1 and 2 that I had written before were really Chapters 2 and 3, exposition to be seen in flashback form. Suddenly, all of the pieces were right back in place, and my enthusiasm for the story was reborn.

And all of that only happened because I was motivated to stick with it, because NaNoWriMo held me accountable. And that is why NaNoWriMo works for me.

Current NaNo Stats
Page Count: 27
Word Count: 8,700
Story progress: Almost finished with Chapter 3
Status: Damn, already made my word count for today. Guess that means I have to work on my technical writing assignment...

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