It’s officially December, which means another NaNoWriMo has come and gone. This year was a lot better than the last (which was also my first).
This year I felt more prepared than I did the year before, but behind in others. I had a clear vision for a story that spanned several books, but not enough plotted out. I understood my characters, but didn’t always know what to do with them, or what to have them do. And yet last year, I didn’t know much about the subject matter I was writing about, simply that it intrigued me. This year, the subject was something I’m a self-made expert in, thanks to tons of research spanning two decades.
I learned a great a deal after my first NaNoWriMo. First, you really have to write every day. It is no fun playing catch-up, which is basically what I did until the very last day of the month last year, writing more than 3,000 words each day just to make it after more “off” days than on. But this year, I didn’t do that. I mean I didn’t start until November 5 (husband’s birthday, travel, nine hours in a car one day, etc. so more or less legit reasons) but once I did start I wrote more than I needed to every day with the exception of three until I was finished. And this year, I finished more than five days early!
My goal was always to finish before Thanksgiving. I just didn’t want to deal with it, and I also wanted to catch up on some other commitments that I had slacked on in order to participate in NaNoWriMo, because all of that writing… time consuming. It felt amazing to be ahead of schedule for several days until I actually finished, and even better when I was able to say I was done before the month was over. And I really think the key to this was writing every day. Because I normally crank out 2200 to 3200 words in a single sitting (this is my average) if I wrote every day and actually started on time, I could be finished with NaNoWriMo in as little as sixteen days.
I’m not sure if I produced the best quality of writing this month. I know I started strong, and then got a little lost, and then ended up writing the prequel for the series instead because that just came easier and I was inspired to write it. And that’s how I finished. Last year I was certain that nearly everything I wrote during NaNoWriMo was absolute crap, but when I went back to look at it this year, I realized that while there was some crap, a lot of it was all right, and totally usable. So this year, I’m not even going to look at it until sometime next year (like February maybe). I think I need that distance to be able to look at it objectively.
I do know that whenever I participate in NaNoWriMo however, I fall into a few bad habits. Namely, I am too wordy. This used to be a genuine problem I always had when writing, but I have spent a great deal of time and effort to correct it, so I feel like when it happens now, it’s like cheating or something. My hope is that if I participate next year, this won’t be the case. I am also not sure if I am going to participate next year in terms of “working on a novel”.
Last year I worked on a novel that had been on my mind for years, but I just hadn’t started. The subject matter was intriguing, and because many of the important characters minus one were based on people I used to know (I knew them when I first thought up the story) nailing them was easy. But I hadn’t researched enough about the subject matter, and I found myself trying to do that AND write, and it didn’t work out too well. I made the final word count by the end of the month, but boy was it painful.
This year, the novel was one I had a brief start on (the prologue, pages of notes, and about 16,000 words of the prequel book written) but I was still unclear on the actual events and scenes in the novel. Because while I knew the big stuff, I didn’t know how to connect them. And I really only had the titular character down, the rest I was still kind of finding. But the subject matter, unlike last year, was something I am practically an expert in, because I have been studying it for more than two decades! So I get it, and very little research was required at all, and even then it was simply because I wanted to, rather than an actual need. Still the lack of actual prep for my novel, such as a scene chart, outline or synopsis made things really difficult, and halfway through I switched and just added onto the prequel I had started, because that was more inspired and I also had an idea of where it was going.
Next year, if I am going to work on an actual novel, I have some criteria for myself.
First, I have to be ready, and being ready involves two parts. The first part is inspiration. I have to be inspired to write whatever I plan on writing. I mean I have to really want to, and the story and/or characters need to be insistent. Otherwise I feel like I’m forcing it, and I hate that feeling and what it turns the process into. Not to mention, the writing is never up to par when this is the case. Both times I have participated in NaNoWriMo I have been inspired to write the books I chose to work on. But if this should change, then why bother. After all, like so many things in life – timing is everything. If something doesn’t speak to me, then it isn’t time to write it yet.
The second part of being ready is exactly what most people probably think it is – actually being prepared. I’ve learned from both of my NaNoWriMo experiences that simply being inspired just isn’t enough. The first year I had a crude/incomplete scene list, a book synopsis, a book back cover blurb and a story map. While I didn’t know everything about the book or what was supposed to go down in it, I knew most of the stuff that mattered. I knew where the book and the characters were going and I knew how to get from one point to another and onto the next. But I hardly knew about the subject matter the novel was about, and in this way I was unprepared. Overall though, I was much more prepared for my first NaNoWriMo novel than I was my second, which is funny since I actually thought I was more prepared this time around. The biggest issue last year was just getting into the groove of writing every day.
This year I thought I was more prepared simply because I knew the subject matter inside and out. And I knew the big picture of the world/series my book was a part of… but I was short-sighted. Perhaps if I hadn’t been, I would have realized I knew next to nothing about the actual book I was supposed to be writing. No scene list, no idea of what really goes on in the book besides a few big moments, not even a synopsis! It was sad, and the key to my struggles this year, since I actually did know about the subject matter and I wrote every day, even finishing early.
The second big criteria I have to follow is pretty simple actually: I have to be committed. Writing a novel or any full-length manuscript is a huge commitment. It takes time (months to years) and I don’t want to work on something for the month and then put it away like I did last year. I want to see it through until I complete an entire first draft, whether that occurs by the end of the month or if I have to keep working on it after. And this is really important to me. I hate leaving things unfinished, and I also hate feeling tied down or obligated to finish something.
To me writing is a love, a passion, a calling, a furious need. It should never feel like a chore, and as soon as it does I know it’s time to move on. So I have to be sure that what I work on next year is something that I’ll not only see through to the end, but it won’t be a chore – but a wonderful adventure that thrills me every day. Just as it should be.
If I don’t work on a novel next year however, I am still going to participate, but simply bend the rules a little. I love the camaraderie, community and progress tracking that is at NaNoWriMo’s core. Two years ago I took a break from a manuscript I was working on because it wasn’t a novel, it was a memoir. This year I wrote a lot, and I mean A LOT, of nonfiction stuff during the month of November. In fact, between polished reviews for publication and personal essays, I wrote over 41,000 words in November. My total word count for the novel I did for NaNoWriMo was 50,237 words. So really, if I counted all of the quality creative prose I churned out last month, I wrote 91,237 words. Not too shabby.
I think that quantity matters for NaNoWriMo, after all that’s the point – to finish a novel (50,000 words really, since that is a little shy of the length of most novels), but I also think that quality matters just as much, and at any other time, even more. If I don’t produce 50,000 words by the end of the month, I have failed NaNoWriMo. If I produce 50,000 words of unusable crap I have failed myself and missed the entire point of doing this. Talk about wasted time. There has to be a healthy middle, and I am determined to find it without driving myself nuts.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with writing 50,000 words worth of personal essays. Especially when that is actually what I am focusing on to submit and get published. And my average essay is probably 2,500 words, so that would be twenty quality essays for my portfolio to start submitting. That’s not bad at all.
Of course, my first choice for next year’s NaNoWriMo is to work on another (or existing but only the new words count) novel. But if I don’t have one at the ready – both in terms of inspiration and preparation, and I am not fully committed, I’m not even going to try it next year. Instead, I’ll sign up and track the word count for all of the great nonfiction I’m churning out. Because writing is writing. Fiction or nonfiction, both are written with a purpose and a dream that they might be published. It’s all art, and hopefully it’s all good reading material. 😉
It was a great NaNoWriMo 2015, but I still have some kinks to work out. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. 🙂