It’s that time again, to get ready for National Novel Writing Month, a month where writers try to write an entire novel by the end of the month (the actual goal is actually 50,000 words and most novels are at least 80,000 words, but writing a novel by the end of the month sounds better than writing 50,000 words I guess). There is a large online community (free to sign up and participate) of people from all over the world that includes support, forums, a place to talk about projects and virtual writing parties. It’s great!
I’ve participated for the past two years, and hit my goals each time. But each year, it was kind of a struggle. The first year I did it I stumbled upon a lot of issues I imagine most first-timers encounter. I didn’t write every day, and found myself playing catch-up until the very end. Even though I made the goal – I felt like a writing yo-yo, and hated it. At the time, I looked at what I wrote and hated that too. (Though looking at it a year later, it’s not nearly as bad as I first thought.) I hit my goal, but something wasn’t working for me.
Last year was my second year participating. I didn’t fall behind or feel like a yo-yo, and I hit 50,000 words early, by nearly a week. But I hated what I wrote, and again, felt stressed or unsure while I was writing. Having this experience, and the fact that it wasn’t my first NaNoWriMo, helped me understand the root of a lot of these problematic feelings.
When I write, it’s organic. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry – it happens. I can’t force it out, just because. The more I have come to understand and appreciate my own process, the more I realize there is no such thing as universal writing advice except to just write. Writing every day sounds like good advice, but it’s not the most practical, and for many not doable. Either because of their busy lives or because if they did, they’d be forcing something. Forcing writing for me – is hell. Anything that comes out of it is absolute crap. And I hate doing it.
Writing for me is as natural as breathing, more so… and it is an outlet, a comfort, a release. It should never feel like a burden. Whenever I go into writing, I have an idea. A vision or basic outline, but that’s it. With fiction, I let my characters guide me. With nonfiction, I let the story unfold. With poetry, it just comes out, fast and furious, like – SPLAT, and there it is. So working tirelessly while focusing on a word count goal, one that is difficult to obtain unless you write two to three scenes a day – I’m just not built for that. But I don’t want to not participate because I feel that NaNoWriMo is such a great motivator… I need to make it work for me. I want to hit the goal, but I also want to enjoy the writing, let it happen and not lose sight of the work I’m putting out there.
Last year, a friend told me that I should just count any writing I did. Essays, blogs – anything creative should work towards that 50,000-word goal. To me that felt like cheating, I didn’t want nonfiction to count towards a “novel” let alone something like a blog or a poem. I also couldn’t shake the advice of so many about writing more than one thing at a time: Don’t do it. Finish your novel before starting another. Your work will suffer.
I listened and last year figured out (organically) a compromise. Last year’s novel was part of a six-book series I had worked on developing. I started out writing the first book, but struggled after about 12,000 words so then I ended up working on the prequel/origin story to that first book. It was the same main character, the same fantastical universe, and as a series everything was linked. I was able to write nearly 30,000 words for this origin story, and the break from the first book gave me space to breathe and I churned out more words towards my original intended book, exceeding the 50,000-word goal.
I was able to justify working on more than one project because both books were part of one larger set, already plotted out and explored. I would not have succeeded if I just worked on “book one” and I doubt I would have been able to churn out 50,000 words for the prequel (which is set to be much shorter than most of the books anyway).
This year, I’m a little bit more ballsy. I’ve decided to let most of the rules go, at least in a strict sense.
There is one novel I am hoping to focus on. It’s going to be Book #1. I’m going to try to focus on that for my 50,000 words. But as soon as the writing loses its joy, feels forced, I’m going to switch things up without the guilt. I’ve decided that any other work of fiction is acceptable. There is a children’s book I want to work on, there is the novel from my first NaNoWriMo, the novel and its prequel from last year, and a series of books I developed as a TV series when I lived in California that I want to turn into a YA series instead. Any of these books are acceptable Plan Bs. I don’t plan to start a new idea or count any short stories or sudden bursts of inspiration, but all of these other books have been started and/or fully developed. So I feel completely all right with pursuing them as well.
As a writer, I always feel like I have too many ideas than I could possibly ever write. This coming NaNoWriMo isn’t about being completely free and unchecked (I currently have sixty novel ideas – yes I keep a list, and my list for Plan B books only adds up to five), but I’m putting it out there because I have a serious issue with commitment. It’s hard to focus on a single book when a character you already know well for another pops in with a hidden gem, or a scene becomes so clear you just have to get it out. My goal is to still focus on a single project, but my focus won’t be so narrow that it allows the writing and my process to suffer. Switching gears to work on another manuscript-in-progress, just to take a breather is totally okay.
Of course, who knows, maybe this will be my most difficult NaNoWriMo experience yet. Maybe allowing myself the freedom to jump project to project is going to spread myself too thin, making me unable to produce on any of my projects. Maybe it will all blow up in my face. But I’m not going to know until I try. And I am ready to give it a go.
So here are the projects I am allowing myself to work on, in order of priority.
Project T: Book I’m most focused on, psychological thriller.
Project J: YA series, originally conceived for TV, being adapted.
Project A: Children’s book.
Project E: My first NaNoWriMo book/project, paranormal thriller.
Project N: Last year’s NaNoWriMo project, a series of 6+ books, alternative reality.
These are the only projects I’m allowing myself to work on during November, or I should say the only projects that will count towards my 50,000-word goal. So if I churn out an essay – great, it doesn’t count. If I am suddenly inspired and work on a short story – super, but it doesn’t count. Whether it’s fiction or even works that end up getting published in November, only these five projects will count. And when I check in throughout the month to share how my writing is coming along, and if I am staying on track, I’ll even divide my total word counts up, so if I check in after ten days, I won’t just say I wrote 20,000 words, but I’ll let you know how many words per project.
I’m excited, even more excited than I was the first time, and the second time. The first time I was excited because I was finally participating. The second time the series I was working on had me psyched. This year I’m excited because I love participating and each potential project makes me feel excited, but now I also think I’ve finally found a way around the biggest drawback of NaNoWriMo for me… and that feels good!
Who else is participating in NaNoWriMo? If you’re putting off getting started on a book/project or nervous, this is the perfect time to take the plunge, with free tracking and tons of support! Remember, the only good writing advice isn’t how to write or how often to write – it’s just write anything at all. Do it! 😉