I attempted my first NaNoWriMo this year. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual event where participants attempt to write 50k words in a month. There’s no real prize but bragging rights. Still, the community involvement plus deadline pressure can be a great way to get a lot of writing done.
Usually, I avoid NaNo. 50k is not novel length. It’s closer to novella length. So, to do all that work for no real prize only to end up with half a book never really appealed to me.
This year, however, I’ve had some trouble writing. There’s a combination of reasons for why that is, the simplest being: it’s 2020. I finished my YA sci-fi RECALLED in July, and since then, I’ve started and stopped a handful of different novels, none of which really stuck. That got me thinking, maybe this was the year for me to finally give NaNo a shot. Maybe what I needed was a boost to get me started. I bought myself a notebook, jotted down some ideas, and committed to giving it a shot.
I didn’t expect much from myself. I thought I’d be doing well if I wrote at about 1,000 word a day pace and finished with 25k-30k words. But the first day happened, and I finished with over 1,667 words (the minimum daily amount required for a steady NaNo pace). Then, the next day happened and I reached the minimum again. Then, the third day happened and I reached it again. That’s when I knew, I might actually be able to do this NaNo thing.
I started off trying to write as many words as I could in one sitting a day. I usually sit down and write in the evenings and manage an average of about 700 words. All in all it takes me a few months to finish a first draft that way. And there’s a reason for that pace. Once I enter the 500-700 word range, I burn out. So, trying to force myself to write close to 2,000 words in one go simply wasn’t a goal I could maintain for long. Instead, I shifted gears, realizing I could write more if I allotted different times for writing throughout the day.
Thus, I tried writing twice a day with a goal of 800-900 words each time. As usual, I’d burn out around 700 instead, and by the end of the day, I’d be at 1,400 words and hurting to finish the last 200 before midnight. That became my NaNo life. 1,400 words by 11PM, bashing my head against the wall for the last 200 before the deadline. By the middle of the month, I’d had enough. I needed to take a break. I allowed myself two days, knowing I’d have to increase my word load if I was going to catch up, but boy! did I need it.
When I resumed writing, I tried a new approach. I allotted more time during the day for writing. Instead of having two sessions with a goal of 800-900, I had four sessions a day with a goal of 500. And it worked! I was able to complete two sessions in the afternoon and another two at night. I fell into a pace of nearly 2,000 words a day, easily making up for the time I lost when I took my break.
I ended up taking yet another break near the end (plus I forgot a day, which drove me nuts because it meant I wouldn’t earn all the badges available), but I did it. I won NaNo by writing 50k in a month.
So what did I learn? For one thing, I learned I can write a lot more in a day than I ever thought I could. For another thing, I don’t know if that was a good thing to learn. Sure, I was able to put words down. I also filled a document full of things wrong with the story, not to mention the horror of the writing quality itself. The mere thought of having to go back and fix everything I’d thrown together for the sake of speed filled me with dread. I straight up threw out close to 10k of what I’d written because it wasn’t salvageable. What remained needed so much work I might as well have just rewritten it. What’s worse? Cobbling together the story that quickly meant it was filled to the brim with plot holes and wasn’t as developed as it needed to be.
I wrote faster, but the amount of editing and revising that would need to go into what I wrote rendered that basically meaningless.
In fact, the end product of my NaNo experience made me so unhappy, I’ve already set it aside in favor of a different story. Will I come back one day to fix and finish it? I hope so. I think, at its core, it’s a good story, one worthy of being completed. On the other hand, I just don’t feel as attached to the characters as I should. I don’t have a clear idea of where the story needs to go. I don’t have a feel for the book like I would normally develop taking my time and really enjoying the writing process.
I don’t regret trying NaNo. I’m already planning what I’m going to work on for the next one. I’m glad I learned how to write more during the day, how to sit down and just. get. it. done. when it comes to writing. (Which happens to be what I’m doing right now since I’m kind of in a hurry to finish this post and get back to editing. Sorry if it’s a mess.) On the other hand, I do wish I’d gotten an actual product out of it, and I don’t feel like I did that.