A Writer’s Life Post-NaNo

After entrenching myself in writing for the whole of November, I haven’t written in December, besides this blog. Burnt out? You might ask. Slightly, but only from the pace that NaNoWriMo requires to achieve completion. In reality, I have been researching most of December.

No matter how much research an author does prior to writing, they will encounter areas of their work they didn’t anticipate having to learn more about. I am writing a historical fiction novel, so this is something I encountered quite often during NaNoWriMo, despite months of preparation.

My novel is set in Ireland in 1920, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Irish War for Independence, sometimes called the Anglo-Irish War. This is the war that broke Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, newly independent at the end of the war, and Northern Ireland, which remains under British rule to this day. If you encounter a person from this area, you may hear them refer to this controlled land as “The North of Ireland” depending on what side of the argument they are on. Hint: This means they still aren’t happy about being occupied.

In preparation for the intensiveness of NaNoWriMo, I spent August through October 31 constructing a three act structure outline of my novel and researching pre-war Ireland starting around 1900 from the political standpoint of both men and women. This is so I could understand the mentality leading into the war. I also researched the war itself. Reading non-fiction accounts of the time while concurrently listening to fictional novels on Audible ate up many months— the latter helpful in getting an idea of dialogue and phrasing, as well as the thoughts of everyday people. Phrasing I have a little knowledge about since my father was from Belfast, where my characters start out, and I visit family there frequently. However, modern phrasing is not necessarily the same as phrasing in 1920. Insights gained in well-researched fiction are often sparse in non-fiction books, and first person diaries and resources of that era are not readily available for me to read here in the U.S.. Looks like I’ll have to go on a research trip. Darn.

If you aren’t a historical fiction writer, you may ask why I’m researching non-fiction events for a fiction novel. Although most everyone in my book is fictional, as well as many of their experiences, they live in a time of turmoil and that effects what they do, where they go, etc.. A writer can’t ignore the significant occurrences surrounding their characters if they place them in an era of conflict. Especially a historical novelist. Lucky for us, we enjoy doing research.

My point is, starting NaNo, I was prepared. During NaNo, I discovered I have much more to research. Not as prepared as I thought. Knowing I couldn’t stop and read ten hours of research each time I came to a crossroad, and in order to move on with my story, I just marked area’s of my novel with annotations that tell me I need to get more information. I have since read author accounts of that speak of doing the same thing in their first drafts— reassuring to this writer completing her first novel.

An example from my novel looks like this: “Staying on the opposite side of the street from the monastery, I passed the enraged mob, scraping my palm against the brick building at my back. ((FML)) (Find out if there is a brick wall or building in that area.) Rounding the area of the armored car, I crept to the other side when a figure stepped from behind the vehicle into my path.” Please excuse the lack of editing in that passage, but you deserve an accurate look into what first drafts look like. ((FML))= Find More Later. Convenient that after countless times of writing this, I came to think of it as Fuck My Life. It made me smile in the midst of visions of upcoming research reaching unscalable proportions.

Why would I have to find out if there is a brick wall or building in the area of this monastery? My character is at an actual event that happened in Belfast, therefore it is possible that readers from that city will know the neighborhood. Well. Some things an author can fictionalize, but this neighborhood, including the houses and the monastery, still stand, so it is important to be true to the events and area when possible. Yes, tedious to some. Important to historical writers.

Writing at a rapid pace brings out a writer’s weaknesses in craft. This has lead me to spending December reading several books on the craft of writing. Currently, I am reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell before I write another word of my novel. This tells you how I feel about the quality of my NaNo writing.

I will be using these techniques with the remainder of my novel and then go back and edit the crap out of the part I’ve already written. I’ll edit it several more times before I feel it is even close to being ready to show to beta readers. Beta reader= Friend or colleague who agrees to read and critique your book before you show it to anyone “official.” Also see, guinea pig.

As far as content research goes, I am reading The Book of The Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer by Gearóid Ó Crualaich. This gives you a hint about some of the characterization in my novel. I have many more books of research to read/peruse in the coming months as I write, but the good news is that I will be able to stop and look up information as I write. No NaNo timeline to adhere to.

So there’s your peek into what a writer might be doing post NaNo. It also gives insight into what writers do when they aren’t writing.  This month, you can find this writer, sitting by the Christmas tree with a glass of delicious pinot noir, catching up on the books and magazines I didn’t have the luxury of getting to last month. Just don’t ask me how I’ll find time to do the Christmas shopping, holiday planning, and cookie baking.

NaNoWriMo Has Left the Building

National Novel Writing Month, the time in which aspiring novelists pledge to write 50,000 words of fiction in a mere 30 days, ends today for eager writers across the globe. For me, it ended yesterday, with one day to spare and 50,026 words written on a screen. Go me.

This is the first day in a month that I haven’t needed to think about that magic number of 1,667 (the per-day breakdown of 50,000), or update my word count on the NaNoWriMo website, or strive to get ahead just so I could take Thanksgiving and Black Friday off. Okay, technically I did write a few words and update my count on those days, including today when I had already completed NaNo, but that was all about achieving the 30 Day badge, not the number of words. Damn you, shiny NaNo badges of temptation.

In honor of this auspicious occasion, I have compiled a list of the top seven things that completing NaNoWriMo has taught me.

1. NaNoWriMo does magic tricks— Um, has anyone seen November? The year had one last time I looked…

2. You learn you can do without your friends, but why would you want to? Make sure you take extra time out to see your abandoned cohorts, even if it is a greatly reduced amount of time compared with pre-NaNo.  Your sanity depends on it. So does theirs. Also, their support is the key to getting through 30 days of high pressure creativity and still retain your love of writing. A win for you is a win for all. Okay, maybe it’s just a win for you (Mine!), but they often bring wine, which is a win for everyone. Sláinte.

Nano friends

3. Time management is crucial and 50,000 words are a shit ton of words. That’s 200 pages of a novel. Instead of freaking out, think of it as the daily count of 1,667 per day and you will make it through! Write a few more words every couple of days when a scene is going well, and you can take Thanksgiving Day off with no guilt. Well, except for the guilt of loading up that plate of tryptophan and its addictive accompaniments. Twice.

4. Leave off writing with a scene you look forward to starting the next day, or at least the idea of one. This technique takes the dreaded not knowing where to begin out of the picture and gets the juices flowing right away. Coffee helps as well, the stronger the better. Preferably with whip cream and cinnamon on top.

5. Dialogue makes word counts soar! If you’re lagging behind in your word count, have characters strike up a conversation or start an argument. Next thing you know, the 1,667 will have flown by and you’ll still be writing your scene. And writing your scene. And writing your scene some more.

6. NaNo’s word counter isn’t the same as yours! To win at NaNoWriMo, a writer must copy and paste their novel (or part of a novel) into the NaNo word counter in order to verify the amount written. For all you worriers out there, the count is made and the novel is immediately dumped out of their system. NaNoWriMo.org does not keep a copy. They aren’t trying to steal your genius.

Don’t write all those words only to lose NaNo on the last day due to a technicality! The first time I put my 50,054 words into the NaNoWriMo word counter to validate my novel, did I get a huge screen that said WINNER across it followed by the sound of NaNo crew members cheering my accomplishments? NO.

What I did get was a new set of numbers, 49,765, followed by the sound of me vomiting expletives.

NaNo ate 289 of my juicy, delicious words! Where did they go? Are they lost out there somewhere, calling my name and wandering in search of other blank pages to call home? I don’t know why NaNo’s calculations are different, but not cool NaNo, not cool.


7. The feeling of accomplishment is real. This is what it looks like:

Nano shirt

Will I participate in NaNoWriMo again? I don’t know yet. At the close of this feat, I’ve proved to myself that I can do it, which was the only competition I was aiming for the entire experience. I am left exhausted, enlightened, and content in the knowledge that I have written what equates to the size of a novella. I have at least another 50,000 words to write in my novel, and more than enough research required that will take months, in order to achieve the end goal: a complete novel.

Would I recommend participating in NaNoWriMo? Absolutely. It’s not a bad way to kick off a novel. I’m only halfway through writing mine but that’s a hell of a lot further than I was 30 days ago. NaNoWriMo might just be the kick in the ass you need to write yours too.