Categories
Writing

I completed NaNoWriMo 2021 – but my story’s not done

The last time I sat down at the blog it was to declare that I was going to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in November. Since then I’ve written a lot, just not here. To be precise, I met the NaNo word goal a day early and finished the month with 51,553 words in my story, writing substantially on each of November’s thirty days.

It was a blast! The story has tumbled out. At times I feel like I’m reading it as it materializes in front of me. It will definitely need editing, but I think I was right about having an interesting plot, and my prose has not been as wretched as I feared it might be. I type fast and my natural tendency is to be wordy in both my speech and writing, so NaNo let me play to my strengths and pile up the words.

(There is a metaphor that makes the rounds in NaNo circles along the lines of, writing your book is like building a sandcastle. The first draft is digging up the sand to work with. Don’t worry about the quality yet, just get it out so you can shape it as you revise.)

Lessons learned include:

  • The targets and progress tracking were hugely motivating. This, plus talking with people about what I was doing, was the magic of NaNo.
  • I’d thought dialogue would be hard to write. Turns out it flows much better for me than descriptions of scenery.
  • Beginning with an outline that described 25+ chapters was essential. Once a good idea for a chapter was in place I was comfortable telling its story in detail.
  • Many of these ideas and plot points occurred when I was walking my dog and would tell her the story. Now if I get something juicy, I take care to dictate to my phone so there’s no risk of forgetting it.
  • I had success with an old digital typewriter (an AlphaSmart Neo) I’d had lying around. I wrote everything on there, transferring it to a computer later. The featurelessness of the Neo deterred me from editing, which kept my words flowing, and it entirely blocked me from getting distracted by the internet.

Despite having 50,000 words, I’m not done writing my story. I want to finish it, in part because I want to know how it ends! (I know the general ending, but want to know the details I’ll only think of while writing).

I’m guessing I’m three-quarters done with the story and I fear that if I take a day off, I’ll lose steam. So I’m going to continue writing, setting a target of averaging 1,000 words a day for the first half of December. That would take me to 67k, which might be enough.

I guess if I’m not done at that point, I’ll keep going. During NaNo I averaged 1,700 words per day. Sometimes that was difficult, and I relied on a few vacation days where I racked up several thousand. But averaging 1,000 per day feels sustainable.

Then I’ll take a little break before I come back and re-read what I’ve written. Editing will be a whole ‘nother ordeal. But that’s for later. For now, here’s to my story – it ended up drawing on many of my interests, experiences, and dreams, and it’s a weird little story no one else could have written, for better and for worse.

P.S.: I typically edit blog posts for a while without making them better. One lesson I hope I’ve learned from NaNo is to rein that tendency in. So this post gets merely a quick read-through.

Categories
Someday Writing

Let’s write a novel this November

For the longest time, I wanted to write a book. My “bucket list” evolved over my teenage years and adulthood, but this item stayed constant. Eventually, I removed it, for two reasons. I didn’t feel I had material worth writing about and even if I did, my prose would fall short.

This year, I finally had an idea for a story worth telling. The smallest seed for it was planted a few years ago, as a book someone should write. I kept turning the idea over, growing it slowly. Then I had a breakthrough this summer during a chat with my ten-year-old – we settled on the main character’s quest and her path to victory. The plot is genuinely compelling (in my eyes) and while it’s not my personal story, it’s a mix of settings that I have a bit of familiarity with.

Soon I had my eye on National Novel Writing Month, “NaNoWriMo,” which begins in a month. The timing was great: I could sit with my story in September and October and see whether I lose interest or stick with it and keep plotting the story and characters. So far it’s been the latter. So I’m signed up and planning to give it my best shot! The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m not sure how long my story might get once I unspool it, but my guess is that 50k words could be enough to tell it all. I have read a few books of ~200 pages this year and it’s a nice snappy length, so that’s my current vision.

I would love to talk NaNoWriMo with others as it approaches and gets underway. Anyone out there want to take the plunge with me this year? Everyone else: if I stick with this you might see less from me as I put my extra energy into the book.

I’m still not sure my writing will be any good – I’m a rank amateur. But I’ll have fun telling the story I’ve dreamt up so even if the result is lousy, I’ll have enjoyed myself and the experience of taking on this challenge. And I can check it off my list.

The biggest challenge I foresee right now is not editing. The idea with NaNoWriMo is to pump out a draft as fast as possible and hit the word count. Then you go back and edit it in future months. When I write here and professionally, I spend more time editing (on the fly and afterward) than I do writing. I’m not sure it always improves my writing, and it slows my blogging down considerably. So perhaps if I can embrace the NaNoWriMo mode of write-without-editing, it’ll lead to more blog posts in the future. Time for me to stop re-reading and publish this post!