Hello, fellow NanoWriMo Blog-hoppers! I’m excited to make your acquaintance and look forward to reading your blogs and your novels!
The first NaNoWriMo I participated in was a blind leap of faith, but since then I have always known right from the start on November 1 if I will win it or not. There’s a clearness of purpose and focus that I either have or don’t have before November arrives. I’m a hybrid writer, somewhere between the extremes of pantsing and obsessive pre-planning. But, when I have done no planning, had no thoughts or dreams about my stories or characters or settings, I know the month won’t result in 50,000+ words of rough draft.
This year, my setting inspiration struck in early August. Along with the setting, I had vague ideas for a plot and a handful of characters. I opened a Scrivener file and created a Pinterest board a few days later, to start capturing information about the characters and the initial setting inspiration.
This is the first time that I drafted a couple of potential book cover ideas for my NaNovel as part of my October preparations. My graphic art skills and ideas are deficient, but both draft covers helped me focus and occasionally gave me inspiration for plot twists. By the end of Week One I was a few thousand words ahead of the curve, and it looked like I’d hit 50,000 words by Thanksgiving.
And then the 2016 Presidential election results came in. I was stunned and horrified by the implications. I still am. I decided to be kind to myself, wallow, rant, protest, and not worry about the story for a few days. A few days became an entire week, but on the following Tuesday, I pulled myself together and started writing again. The plot became darker. The characters who had not yet been introduced when I stopped writing developed some menacing attributes during the hiatus
I was about 10,000 words behind, and I worked methodically to catch back up (more about that later!). I felt good enough about my progress to take both the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving off from writing. And on November 28, I passed the 50,000-word mark. By the end of November, I had about 56,000 words and had come to a major transition point in the story.
And I took another week off to think about how the story has developed, where I want to take it next, and about how I want to spend the next weeks preparing for 2017. When it comes to planning out a year of writing and editing, I’m very much on the pantsing portion of the writers’ continuum. And, just as with NaNoWriMo, I’ve found that no preparation at all for the coming year results in a year where I don’t reach my goals. The rest of December will be devoted to developing some goals, objectives and milestones. I’ll blog about that next week!
How I Caught Up After a Week of no Writing
This is the “more later” part of the article.
I admire people who can reach the 50,000-word goal in a week or two (or even in a day), but I’m a plodder at many things, including writing. I make up in sticktoitiveness what I lack in explosive writing volume.
I like to pour it on during the first week of NaNoWriMo. This year I set a goal of 2500 words or more each day of the first week. I do this because I know that there will be bumps in the November road during most years. I was 4000 words ahead of the game when I stopped writing during the second week.
On November 15, when I started writing again, I should have been at 25,000 words. My word count was 16,000. I decided to keep going with the 2500 word daily goal, but I had trouble reaching it. I was easily distracted, and instead of knocking out nearly a thousand words in a sitting, it was more like 300. So, I challenged myself to sit down and write more frequently. And I vowed not to call it a night and go to bed until I broke 1667 words (the daily minimum needed to hit 50,000 words in 30 days). On a bad day, if I couldn’t make progress toward catching up, I could at least make sure I didn’t fall further behind.
Although I didn’t participate in any formal sprints, I challenged myself several times a day to sit down and write as much as I could in 30 minutes.
And the words started piling up again.
Sometimes, my mind went blank and I had no idea what I wanted to write. So, I put my characters in a car and sent them to the Wine Country, to a redwood forest, to a beachside town. Some of those trips wound up advancing the plot directly. Some of them gave me a chance to develop the characters. And all of the short trips gave the characters opportunities to talk to each other about what they saw, what they wanted to do, and what they thought about the trips and about each other. Dialogue is one of my favorite ways to push the plot forward.
And every day, the gap closed a little. On November 20, I was back on the curve – I’d caught up to the count I would have had if I wrote 1667 words every day. And I promptly took two days off for Thanksgiving, secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to reach 50,000 words before November 30.
When I finally hit the goal on November 28, writing became pure joy again. The weight of the looming deadline had been more of a killjoy than I realized.
And that may be my greatest takeaway from NaNoWriMo this year. When you complete your first NaNovel successfully in 30 days, it’s an emotional rush like no other. The goal is novel — something you’ve never done before — possibly something you never thought you could do. For me, it was a euphoric success after a dozen unsuccessful fits and starts at writing a novel going all the way back to the eighth grade. I had been able to write poetry and short stories, but I knew I had a novel or two inside me and I feared that I would never be able to get them out of my mind and onto paper. My first NaNoWriMo put those fears to rest in the best possible way.
I don’t have to prove that I can do it to myself over and over again. Setting aside November for intensive writing is something I do because I enjoy it. Writing is an intensely solo endeavor. I’ve always enjoyed the vicarious and real-life company of a million other writers striving toward their own goals with me.
This year, it would have been ok to stop after the election and pick this story up when I felt less scattered. But, doing so would have given the winner of this election another victory — my emotional and artistic demoralization. And, even though he’ll never know that I won that battle, I know it. I wrote on, and I met my goal.
And now I’m free to write for the joy of it.