A N00B Takes on NaNoWriMo
In the great hopeful tradition of other things that take only a month to accomplish—like cleaning your home, say, or tidying up the yard—I ran headlong into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for even shorter...Na if you're just to lazy too make more than one syllable). I was encouraged by the fact that so many people had actually risen to this grand task and found themselves victorious! I, too, want to put up magnificent word counts every day and taste that novel-writing victory! I, too, want to have the first draft of a new book ready for second-looking by December 1st! I, too, want that badge and those bragging rights...and that mug!
So here we are a little over a week later, and where do I stand among *all that up there*?
Just past the quarter-way point, I think. I guess. Maybe?
There are a few things that I didn't realize when I began prepping that have become apparent now that I've spent a week on the wordwork treadmill. And to be totally clear: I'm not new to writing, so none of this has anything to do with anything but how my little brain works. But maybe yours works in the same way, and maybe you ARE new to NaNo, and maybe YOU, TOO, have run into some similar situations. I'll break it down into three parts, just to keep it from taking up too much blog space.
Realization One: I'm competing against no one but myself - The Archduke of this fine establishment, one Clayton Smith, is also NaNo-ing, though not for the first time (he gives his advice about not self-editing here...we'll get to that in a minute) and has already thrown up prodigious word counts in his first week. He's halfway finished with the 50K goal. Amazing! I see others posting about being almost 20K in, and writing five thousand words a day. Astounding! And here I sit, looking at what I consider to be a meager two thousand words on a good day, and I wonder how someone who's already written books several times can be throwing out such small numbers. And then I realized: it really doesn't matter. The idea is to finish 50K words by the end of November. If two thousand a day gets me there, then so be it. If I have a ten thousand word day somewhere in there, then neat! And if I don't, so what?
Realization Two: I may not have a whole story idea yet - Don't get me wrong: I absolutely DO have an idea, and a pretty happy-making one at that. I did my level-best to point-by-point the plot and give myself something of a map to follow as I go. And I'm seeing other authors say the same, that they're finding their plot threads as they go and hoping for the best. But I'm finding that the tools I hoped would be my guideposts aren't helping me push through the full narrative. The good news is that the diversions are making the story richer and more satisfying, which will serve me well in the end. And in spite of my best attempts at not self-editing, it's such an integral part of my writing process, that I simply can't avoid it. Reviewing yesterday's work is how I prime myself for today's. Skipping that step makes me anxious and blocks the flow. So I'm going to allow myself the luxury of editing a bit in hopes of hitting the next paragraph running each time.
Realization Three: Words is words, and that's that - In general, I don't write a novel from beginning to end in one felled swoop, and I don't know many authors who do. I start with at least 20 to 30 pages of notes, which include snippets of dialogue, descriptions, philosophical pinings, possible names for characters, speculations, et cetera. At some point, when I feel I've mined enough to begin, I pick up from Page One and see how far I get before maybe Page Thirty butts in. Then, I may head out to The Ending and play around there for a while, before coming back to Chapter Seventeen...and on and on. Hopscotch isn't my game here; it's something more along the lines of pinball. Somehow, I thought I could buck that and write all the way through this time. Turns out, it's not working. In fact, it's ANTI-working. And I'm not about to miss my 50K word count mark. So here's the deal I've made with myself: I'm going to write whatever comes, in whatever order it tells me to. I'm not going to question it. I'm just going to do my thing. And if my 50K first draft ends up including swaths of notes that need further fleshing out in the second draft, then yay for me - I've got raw material to work with! If it ends up containing 45K of nice, orderly work, then woohoo - I've won there, too! And if it turns out to be a load of gobbledy-gook that needs major surgery to put it into some sort of order, then hot diggity - second draft will be pretty much what it always is, which is a chance to draw cosmos from chaos.
I guess my point is this: In beginning NaNo from a n00b's perspective and hoping for huge numbers early on, I second-guessed my own already-in-place writing process, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. I see now that I'll do as I do, using the month to focus on simply laying down some sick new story beats in whatever form they come, as usual. And on December 1st - win or lose - I'll start the process of second-drafting what I hope will be a major new story in my authorly library.
In that sense, there is no losing.