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NaNoWriMo 2014 Follow-Up / Lessons Learned

Before I decided to fill my website with a bunch of miscellaneous movie reviews for a month, I briefly introduced my goal to complete NaNoWriMo despite the handicap of having a baby.  The plan was to hit the 50,000 word goal regardless of whether or not I had a complete novel at the end of it.

Fast forward to today (or Nov 30, whatever) and I am pleased to announce that I did successfully "win."  My novel hit the 50,000 word mark at around 3:00 in the morning on November 30, a good 21 hours before the deadline.

Unfortunately, I think I screwed up pretty badly along the way and cheated myself out of the more impressive goal of having written a complete novel that would have been around 70,000 words or so.  So in case my past self is able to see this somehow, I'd like present a brief list of lessons I learned this year.

1. Although a series of arbitrary movie reviews seems like an easy way to fill up space in your blog for a month, it's actually the hardest possible way to plan ahead.

My goal for the "Paternity Leave Movie Reviews" was to avoid getting stuck for ideas on what to write for my blog.  In theory, it was a great idea: to maintain my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, I really only needed 12 movie reviews to fill up a four week block and then I could just relax and walk away.  Even better, I thought, was that if they were movies I liked, I'd have plenty to say about each.

Turns out that was a mistake.

The first problem is that I actually had almost no time to write the reviews in October, so at least half of those reviews were written during my so-called "Paternity Leave."  Second problem: I actually didn't have a whole lot to say most of the time.  If I've just recently seen a movie, whether I like it or not, I normally have tons to say because I can come up with thoughts on the fly and run with it, but if you ask me to write a few hundred words about something I haven't seen in two years, I'll probably get stumped after, "I really like this movie."

But most of all, the problem is that movie reviews, when done well, take a hell of a lot more time than an arbitrary blog / journal post (like this).  If I'm going to write a review, I want to write something that's at least halfway insightful or interesting - and that takes a lot of time and concentration.  Plus, I need screenshots from the movie, which take time to put together, So the irony is that I ended up spending more time working on my blog during my "break" rather than less.

2. There is absolutely never a good reason to start writing against a deadline without a comprehensive story outline.

I actually wrote about this topic before, so it's pretty stupid that I didn't take my own advice this year.  I almost always put together a thorough and complete story outline before I begin writing a book for the sole reason that it helps me to avoid the dreaded feeling of dis-inspiration: those quiet, painful hours where you find yourself stuck as to how the next chapter in your story should go and you stare at a blank page in bewilderment.

Even if the final story doesn't match the outline - and it usually doesn't - the outline is essential because it tells you the answer to the question, "What happens next?"  A good analogy would be a screenplay; a talented director with a cast of good actors can improvise and come up with new dialogue or shots that communicate the story more interestingly than what's on the page, but they still need the screenplay to ground their ideas and tie everything together.

I actually tried to get a complete outline together in October, but it turned out I was busy writing movie reviews.  See Lesson #1.

3. Babies are just another poor excuse not to do your work.

Not that I want to criticize parents who find themselves strapped for time - I know now from experience that it's really difficult - but if you say that you can't write a novel because you "have a baby," you're basically just finding a new way to say that you'd rather spend your free time doing something other than writing.

It's one thing to need to sleep or eat or brush your teeth or bathe, which can be tricky when you've got a feral thing screaming in your ear.  If you need to take care of an essential that you've put off, then you have to do it.  But when you've met the basics and your baby is sleeping, you're going to find yourself with downtime, even if it's only thirty minutes at a time.  So what are you going to do with those thirty minutes?  You want to watch TV or you want to write?

What I learned most of all is that having a baby didn't really change the core conflict I've always had when it comes to time management: making the right choice.  There were days before I had a baby when I came home from work and said, "Don't want to touch my computer," and there were days after I had a baby when I came home from work and said the exact same thing.  But I still have a choice.

Getting something done is ultimately a matter of making the difficult decision to keep trying at something even when you really want to let your brain melt a little.  In a way, that's almost the harshest lesson to learn.  Now that I hit my goal, I realize I don't have any more excuses.  Kinda sucks to know that any failure from now on is truly my own.

Anyway, here's a picture of my baby pretending to be an old man: