National Novel Writing Month 2018

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I finished a couple of hours ago, my fourth “win” in six attempts.

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts and observations from this year:

  • I like writing, of course, but I also specifically like typing. That distinction took a while to tease out. I consider “writing” to be the creative part of the exercise: coming up with characters and plot, crafting sentences, and so on. “Typing” is the mechanical part: moving one’s fingers over the keys and pressing them down and making the clackity noise. I don’t think I’d be able to get through NaNoWriMo without that second interest; it’s easy to think a story, but it takes a hell of a lot of typing to write it.
  • It doesn’t seem to matter whether I plan or not. One of my failures included a bunch of outlining and character sketches I’d prepared ahead of time, and three of my successes, including this year’s, were largely extemporaneous. After a couple of days I had a vague idea of what the main conflict would be in this year’s story, but then my protagonist and antagonist had their first meeting and somehow resolved their differences right away! I rolled with that and spent the next 35,000 words writing slice of life instead. That kind of pivot would have been more painful if I had plotted out their entire arc ahead of time.
  • It helps me a lot to frame this as “50,000 words of a novel” instead of “a 50,000-word novel.” (The summary on the website actually does use the latter, but then clarifies in the FAQ that “You will still win if you reach your goal but have not yet ‘completed’ your novel.” Of course, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether they officially sanction my framing or not…) I rely on the freedom to bail early on difficult scenes, leave plot holes and loose ends, write thirty consecutive lines of dialog if that happens to be easier that day, and so on.
  • Even though I never end up with anything I’d want to show to people, NaNoWriMo is still a genuinely useful creative exercise. This year I spent a good portion of of my word count trying to work out the dynamic between my three main characters. I would write a scene with all three of them, then a couple permutations of pairs, then a scene where someone was off on her own, and then I’d get them all together again and repeat the process. I recast their interactions over and over until, 20,000 words later, the dynamic finally landed for me and they all felt believable. Again, this didn’t yield a satisfying and cohesive story—for one thing, their behavior is inconsistent because I only decided how they should act by writing them. But there’s nothing stopping me from lifting out the good bits for use elsewhere. Even if that only ends up being a few hundred words, that’s more than I started with, and I’ve already done the work of establishing the characters in my head.
  • A new strategy that I employed this year: if I was in the middle of a scene that was going well, and I noticed that I’d already hit my word count for the day, I stopped there. For me it’s easier to rekindle that energy the next day and use it to build up a head of steam than it is to start a new scene from scratch right as I sit down to begin writing.
  • I spent some time last month rereading my earlier NaNoWriMo entries, and once I got over the mental barrier of cringing at my own writing I began to really enjoy it. I’d forgotten most of the details so I was able to read the stories with fresh eyes. Plus, it was all perfectly tuned to my taste!