Writing Thursday: NaNoWriMo Ate My Brain; or, How NOT To Do NaNoWriMo

Hello, blog.

{shuffles feet}

It’s been a while.

I know, I know.  I never call, I never write, I never even send e-mail.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try to do better, really I will.  It’s just that sometimes, I get distracted.

Like in November, when National Novel Writing Month–a.k.a. NaNoWriMo–rears its ugly head once again.

Now, I’ve done NaNoWriMo before and managed to keep at least a little bit of a grip on my life.  But somehow, this time around, it Just. Ate. My. Brain.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple:  Write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days–during the month of November, to be precise.  The goal is to learn to set your Inner Editor aside, to just write now and worry about editing later.

It’s not really all that hard.  You only have to write 1,667 words a day, every day.    That’s not that much; about two and a half to three pages, single-spaced.  Which isn’t nothing, but it’s normally quite manageable, especially if you take certain steps first.

For example, you really should:

  1. Have at least a rough outline of where the story is going.  Even if you’re a pantser (someone who plots “by the seat of their pants”), like me, you ought to have at least a vague sense of which direction the story’s headed.  By no means should you wait until 11:59 pm on Halloween night before you even decide which of the seven or so stories you’ve got rolling around in the back of your head you want to write this year.  (I’m not saying I did that, mind you.  I’m just saying you definitely shouldn’t do it that way.)
  2. Have at least some idea who your characters are.  Which is not to say you have to have complete character sketches or interviews with each of your main characters and most of the minor characters as well.  Nor do you have to have a detailed back-story for each.  But you really, really, really should have more than just a first name for your main character, and you really, really, really ought to have some idea of who your secondary characters are.  Just sayin’.
  3. If your story is set in a fantasy world, you really ought to take the time to at least sketch out a map of where your cities are in comparison to one another.  And if your world includes magic, you ought to at least think about how the magic works, even if you don’t write down a bunch of formal rules.
  4. And finally, you really shouldn’t plan to get in your car after work on November 1st and drive halfway across Kansas, then spend the next four days doing things like touring the Cosmosphere (unless you’re writing a sci-fi story with rockets.  Then it’s “research”!) and attending a steampunk convention, and driving home.  Even if one of your favorite bands (*cough* Abney Park *cough*) is playing.  Because that’s just crazy-talk.
I'm not blaming Captain Robert for my NaNo problems.  But if Abney Park hadn't been playing in Wichita, just 7 hours or so away... (Note: this picture is actually from their concert in Denver this fall.  Because of NaNoWriMo, I haven't gotten my pictures from Wichita uploaded yet.)

I’m not blaming Captain Robert for my NaNo problems. But if Abney Park hadn’t been playing in Wichita, just 7 hours or so away… (Note: this picture is actually from their concert in Denver this fall. Because of NaNoWriMo, I haven’t gotten my pictures from Wichita uploaded yet.)

So, yeah.  I failed at NaNoWriMo prep this year.

I was 5,000+ words behind by Day 5.  By all rights, I should have failed at NaNoWriMo altogether.  I’m still a bit surprised that I didn’t.

There were certainly days when I felt like giving up.  Days when it felt as though I was carving each and every word out of granite.  With a bobby pin.

But then I remembered this piece of sage advice about writing:

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
–E. L. Doctorow

That’s exactly how it felt–as though I was picking my way through the night, never seeing any further than my headlights would reach, but always able to see at least someplace to go next.

The other thing that helped was that this time, for the first time, my Beloved Husband decided to do NaNoWriMo with me.  Which meant that instead of having to try to carve time out of the family schedule for writing, this time, writing was the family schedule most nights.  And I have to say that there’s something very comfortable about sitting in a room with one’s spouse, clicking away at our separate keyboards, each on our own separate journeys, but still traveling side-by-side.  (We were within a few hundred words of each other for most of the month.)

What finally saved NaNoWriMo for me was the fact that on about the 23rd of November, my main character did something I didn’t quite expect, but that turned out to be a defining moment, not only for her, but for the entire story.  After that, things started to flow more naturally, with less of a struggle.

Looking back now, I can see that about 2/3 of what I wrote during November was really the back story and character sketches I should have been doing in October.  So there’ll need to be some editing (no surprise there).  I had a hard time finding my main character’s voice, though I think I’m finally starting to get a handle on her.  She’s got just a touch of snarkiness to her.  Though after three years of writing in my steampunk/Victorian universe, I’m having a hard time remembering that her dialogue needs to be simpler, more direct.  I’ll get it figured out, though.

So that’s why I’ve been away for so long.  I’ll try to keep up better now.  ‘K?


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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3 Responses to Writing Thursday: NaNoWriMo Ate My Brain; or, How NOT To Do NaNoWriMo

  1. Love the E. L. Doctorow quote — hope to read your piece someday.

  2. Sharon Davis says:

    Yay! I’m excited to see a new blog post. I love reading about your writing journey.

    So far I’ve been an EXTREMELY slow writer who compulsively edits as she writes, but I’m thinking I’m going to give JaNoWriMo a shot in a couple of weeks. It’s going to demand a major mental shift, and I’m not at all sure I can pull it off, but I’m going to try!


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