November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Thousands of writers of all ages, from all walks of life, writing in all genres, from just about every country in the world, decide that during the month of November they are going to write 50,000 words – which equates to roughly 1,670 words a day, every day, for 30 days straight.
This, my friends, causes severe perspiration. There is absolutely no time to wait for inspiration. You simply apply fingers to keys and pour the words onto the page. You may lift your head for a brief second to stare out the window, but you are achingly aware of the word count ticking slowly up on the bottom of the screen, and the clock inching closer to midnight.
I first did NaNoWriMo in 2004 with no real idea of what I was doing, totally unprepared for the month ahead. I had a couple of stories in varying stages of completion, but never gotten to type “The End”. On November 1st, 2004 I simply started with a one-line story idea and a vague idea of who the main characters were. I ignored the forums, the weekly emails, and concentrated on the word count, despairing when I fell short and feeling elated when I over-achieved for the day. I started each writing session – sometimes two or more a day – by checking my word count and reading the last line of the previous paragraph and plowed ahead. As stories often do, this story starting wandering off track. The characters took on lives of their own, they didn’t do what I wanted them to, new characters appeared out of nowhere, subplots formed and intruded on the main storyline, the weather played a central role in some scenes, as did the setting, and the characters clothes.
I let the ideas run their course and kept writing, believing that the story would find its way back. It never did, although the new plot had a beginning, middle and an end, it was not the story I started writing. When December 1 rolled around I was exhausted, and put the story away for about six months before returning to it, expecting the worst.
It survived the first read-through without ending up in the trash. All story threads were tied up at the end, subplots wove in and out of the central plot, and the characters enjoyed themselves tremendously. I considered editing it but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to bring it back into line with what I originally intended, or to simply make it better. I really liked the original idea and while the new story was okay, it was so far off course that I simply put it in the bottom drawer where it remains to this day.
I did NaNoWriMo again in 2005, 2007 and 2008 but didn’t complete it, ending up with less than 5,000 words all three times. I was trying too hard to stay on track with the original story idea and I killed the momentum of those stories.
I took a few years off and did NaNoWriMo again last year. Once again I started with a one-line idea. I’m glad to say I completed it last year and I have a rough but presentable first draft to a story. Although I did reign in the subplots and characters when they wandered too far off track, I allowed the story to evolve at its own pace and into its own form. For the first time I socialized with fellow writers and attended the annual NaNoWriMo fundraising event called the Night of Writing Dangerously in San Francisco near the end of November. There was something invigorating about being in a room full of writers all focused on reaching their word goals. The only downside – the ‘contests’ – one of which was who wrote the most in an hour – it was someone who professed to write a couple of thousand words. I can’t remember the exact word count but it seemed impossible unless they had two computers and were writing with both hands and feet. I require peace and quiet to write and barely managed a page. The event was great fun though and I regret not signing up for this years event. My photo on the Who page was taken at this event.
I believe that NaNoWriMo is the best way to write a first draft – furiously, continuously, and without overthinking. I have an idea for a story that is a follow up to one I have completed and put on the back burner for future editing.
But I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do NaNoWriMo this year.
The main problem is that I have far too many completed stories waiting to be edited. Editing takes far, far longer than writing and, I believe, much more focus and discipline. It has its fun moments but for the most part it is more hard work than writing the first draft.
The novel I’m currently editing has been on and off my ‘editing desk’ for years. It’s in the fourth edit/revision and is finally gleaming, ready for it’s last coat of polish before critique and line editing.
Do I risk losing steam and stalling on this final edit? Shaping, rearranging, buffing, and polishing a book gets tedious after a while and I’ve been editing this revision since March with only a few week breaks in between. I already feel that I’m losing some momentum. But perhaps an extended break from editing to jump into the glorious craziness that is National Novel Writing Month is what I need.
Or perhaps I can do both?
Can I write 1,670 new words a day and still have some brain cells left to work on my editing? If I am successful it will be a major accomplishment for me.
It’s the 28th of October. I have three days to decide.
I’ll keep you posted….