Someone asks, “What’s the point of NaNoWriMo? You write 50k words in 30 days and you end up with a hot mess.”
Writing Tip for Today: To anyone who has completed the 2021 NaNoWriMo challenge, congratulations! Even if you never sell this novel, other rewards can be just as important:
A Great Idea
By now, your initial story idea has surely changed from your original novel vision. Maybe you weren’t quite sure what your character was doing in the story or maybe that person wasn’t sure what he/she wanted.
By the end of your novel draft, it’s usually much easier to pick out the goal and character’s passionate desire. If you read over the draft and still don’t quite get why the story isn’t hanging together, you can brainstorm solid goals and intensify the character’s driving motivation.
Think of this as an onion with layers. The more surface layers you peel away (what the character does in the scenes), the more you can dig deep to the basic wants and needs. It really is like a strong onion—when you start crying you know it’s getting where it needs to be—a gut punch of emotion.
Treat character like an onion: you’ll know you’re getting it right when you start to cry.
A Great Character
Another way you can look at your “hot mess” of a draft is that now you can take the time to deepen and strengthen your character. If your main character seems generic or shallow, it may be time to do some in-depth character building.
Start by reconstructing your character’s history. Not the blue eyes and black hair stuff. The really important stuff. Ask, what is the character afraid of? Why? What does he/she want more than anything? What are her biggest failures? How can she overcome them?
Great characters are far more than quirky details. But details matter too. Go beyond the outer appearance to learn your character’s likes and dislikes, pet peeves, fondest hopes. And don’t neglect your character’s adversaries—the antagonist must be more than a black hat.
A Great Writer
Perhaps the biggest reward of NaNo is that you are now at least 50k words farther down the mastery of craft path. As Malcolm Gladwell has said, it takes 10,000 hours to master something, and writing probably takes twice that many hours for most of us.
The fabulous thing about completing NaNoWriMo is that you’ve practiced your craft. So many writers want to have written, but don’t necessarily enjoy writing. You’ve just proven that you can tough out the drudgery of writing. Ideas are wonderful, but if they stay inside your head, it doesn’t count as writing.
NaNoWriMo helps writers convince themselves that writing is its own reward. That producing great works requires great work. I hope you’ll carry that work ethic into the new year and produce many many more words. Get thy BIC (Butt in Chair) and write, knowing you’re a real writer.