What Have We Learned from Our Stories?

imageToday marks the 2/3rds point for NaNoWriMo.  Day 20. 33333 words. However you slice it, folks who are doing NaNoWriMo are in the final stretch of days for their 2013 novelling adventure. It seems to be as good a time as any to:

1. Backup your novel! (go do it right now, I’ll wait…)
2. Take a moment to see what we’ve learned from our current writing efforts.

This is my 8th year doing NaNoWriMo. I have won each year (my kids said the other day, “Winning NaNoWriMo is just what you do, Dad. Like breathing and eating.”) I lamented earlier this month that it wasn’t going well for me in the early stages this year. And it wasn’t going well. I started over about 10 times. I changed ideas and genres, then changed back, then changed again (and again). I was truly spinning my wheels. The advice I received on that post was tremendously helpful in terms of thinking about the next 50 words instead of the 50,000th word, or thinking about the current scene instead of the next or the last.

Ultimately, the problem really was that there was a different story that wanted to be written, one which I didn’t really feel like writing. When I finally threw my hands up in the air and stopped fighting it, the words started flowing.  I am now at 37,226 words (so far) for NaNoWriMo 2013.  The prose is choppy at best. The dialogue is stilted and quite likely predictable. But the framework for a decent novel is there. So, at the 2/3rds mark, I’d say I’m seeing at least some success with this novel.

As I mentioned, my kids say I always find a way to win this event.  And while that may be true (so far), there is always something I learn about my writing each time I participate in NaNoWriMo and, in fact, each time I write anything at all.  This year, I’m learning several things. One thing is that I can’t fight against the words that want to come out if I want any words to come out. NaNoWriMo 2013 has taught me that I need to recognize that if a story wants to be told, that’s the one I should write.  But another thing I’ve learned is that I am becoming more and more a character-based writer.  I come up with characters and let them create and participate in their own adventures.  If I try to force these characters into plot lines in which they don’t fit, the characters rebel. They proclaim that they are on strike, sit down stubbornly and refuse to do anything at all.

It has been remarkably true this year. For one scene in this novel, I needed my character to go into a political rally and essentially get riled up to the point that he decides to run for office.  Unfortunately, this character has absolutely no desire to run for office. None whatsoever.  As a result the scene stalled, even before it had a chance to start.  There was no way I could change this character into someone who could be driven to run for an office, no matter how bad I made the political situation he faced.  I ended up bringing in another character – his fiancé – who had a deep, repressed desire to have that kind of power and she was able to step into the role I needed. In addition to allowing me to finish the scene, this new character and relationship opened up new possibilities for storylines and conflict.

Writing is something I feel we never stop learning how to do. We can learn by reading, of course, and I believe we learn by writing. Whether you do NaNoWriMo or not isn’t the point – if you are writing, you can be learning from your stories and your characters.  So, what have you learned from your work-in-progress recently? Have your characters gone on strike as mine did, or are they more compliant and willing to work with you? Have you found yourself writing into a plot twist you didn’t expect? Have you backed yourself into a corner in your storyline and can’t find a way out?  What challenges are you facing with your writing this month and what have you learned as you’ve overcome them?


8 thoughts on “What Have We Learned from Our Stories?

  1. Always a good way to start writing–backing up.

  2. I learned that I will never do NaNoWriMo again. Overall it’s been a bloody awful experience, but I am too stubborn to quit.

  3. I only stall when as Cannell says I’m not being true. If I am making my characters do something they wouldn’t do then I have problems. They do throw stuff in there. For example, I didn’t see the psychotic stalker in this one. He just showed up. I’ve come to the conclusion I cannot write a book without some sort of escapee from a Psychiatric Forensic hospital showing up for lunch. So the plot got tweaked. What I learned was I have a thing for crazed killers and they most likely will show up so I just need to write them in.

  4. I(‘m glad you finally wrote your way out of your slump and will likely head for another successful win. Congrats.

  5. Reblogged this on Oh My Blog! and commented:
    This is the first year participating in NaNoWriMo. While I didn’t win, I did meet some fun people and for me that’s a win.

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