Sunday, October 9, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

(This year's badge not available yet!)

It's almost that time of year again- NaNoWriMo! For the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of busy little scribblers around the world will sit down at their computers (and some at their notepads) and attempt to complete 50,000 words of novel.

Last year was the first NaNo for most of the ATWOP girls, but we all jumped in and had a blast. Check out our many November blog posts to see how we went about our writing tasks, and you may come away with some useful insights.

One year after NaNo, I have a pretty clear view on what went well, and what didn't go so well for me, and I'm planning on learning from that before I so much as touch my keyboard in 2011.

The good

From the first day of November, I magically developed something I'd been lacking for a while- focus! I signed up for NaNo, I had a little publically visible word counter on the right there, and more than thirty of my writing buddies were in the chase with me- this time, it wasn't just myself I might be letting down if I didn't get those words on the page, and the strength of that accountability gave me the kick in the rear I'd been needing.

This year, I'm very much hoping the same will be true.

My writing speed has never been a problem when my focus is engaged, but actually finding the time to get those words down has been a challenge for me since my daughter arrived three years ago. It's no doubt going to be an even bigger challenge when her new baby brother rocks along early next year, so I see this as a chance to remind myself- no matter how busy you *think* you are, you can *always* find some time to write. It just comes back to focus.

Focus, and joy. NaNo brought me back a little bit of joy that had leached out of my writing. It came back because I was writing without worrying, and I was writing good stuff without letting my inner critic get in the way, and it was great to see what I was capable of when I let go of all the stress and just did it. I smiled for the whole month of November, or at least right up to the day where my child vomited on my laptop. I didn't smile much then. No repeats of that planned this year!

I went along to the pre-NaNo meetup and one of the write-ins for my local group last year, and I had a blast getting to know other writers from my area. I've never joined a local writing group, and all my writing buddies have been found in international writers' communities online, but there was something really special about connecting with others in my area at a time like that- we all had the same goals, and we all had the same excitement and love for our stories. It was infectious, crazy and fun. I can't wait to catch up with them all again this year- so from experience, I highly recommend you check out your local NaNo group on the NaNo forums (due to be relaunched on Monday).

The bad- a cautionary tale...

The speed of NaNo was great for so many reasons- the enthusiasm, the drive, the proof that fast words can be good words- but it was terrible for one very big thing, and that was perspective.

I decided to go into NaNo last year with my existing novel, Between the Lines, and I started with a new plot twist I'd been wanting to try out. I figured hey, what was the harm? I could always erase my 50,000 words at the end of NaNo if they didn't work, and it was a no-loss proposition- only a month of work, and I'd have learned something important by seeing what *didn't* fit the story.

But it didn't work like that. I wrote furiously from my new plot twist, and the story unfolded in amazing ways. Some of the writing was absolutely stunning; some of the scenes had me (and others) bawling. There was genuinely awesome stuff in there.

Ultimately, though, none of it was right. The original plot twist was the problem, and everything from that point onward took me down a rabbit hole with a dead end.

And pressing delete, unfortunately, turned out not to be that easy. I got myself well and truly lost down the rabbit warren, with no way out. Because tangled in with the not-right stuff was some very interesting character stuff that couldn't be ignored. It changed my perspective on the original story too much for me to go back to what it had been.

One year later, I've finally got a solid idea of how to pull it back, and all I need now is the motivation, focus and time to get it rewritten. But am I going to get that from NaNo?

Oh, hell no.

No way am I taking an existing story in this year. I concede, after all my protests last year that It Could Be Done, that it's not very easy to do at all. I'm not saying it's impossible; I'm pretty sure there must be a lot of writers out there who do manage to use November to do great things in existing works.

But for me, what I lacked was the ability to slow down, stop, and think about where I was going, and what it all meant. I need that when I'm into my third/ fourth draft. My first? Not so much- I'm free to write whatever I like, and that unfettered creativity is a great thing. I'm looking forward to it this year, especially because I feel like it's going to heal some gaping confidence wounds that came up after last year's unrecoverable mistakes. But never again will I use an existing work in NaNo, because one month of furious effort bought me one year of total stall, and it's not worth it.

Are you doing NaNo this year? Have you done it before? And if you have, what have you learned from your past experiences?


  1. I made the same mistake, Claire. It won't happen again this year (even though I haven't_actually_decided if I'm doing NaNo this year).

  2. I would love to do NaNo but with the 50-60 hours I work, a family, a blog and a book I'm trying to push... I simply don't have time! Good luck!

  3. EEE! I'm signing up again this year, too. Last year I didn't have the best success--I think I petered out after a great first week--but this year, I'm totally ready for the starting gun. Granted, who knows if I'll make it. What you said is true, though--there really never is a good time for anything. Real life is always going to be crazy and get in the way of your goals, but you have to learn to push through all of the distractions. It's something I'm REALLY trying to keep in mind these days--no excuses. Once you start going down that road, you'll excuse yourself right out of forward motion.

    As for what I'll be writing--I'll be working on the sequel to BTPM--WALKING IN SHADOW--strangely, the same thing I worked on...erm...last year. LOL. Yep. I open up that file and there's the roughly 15K I wrote last year during NaNo. This year, though, I definitely have a better idea of where the book is going plot-wise, so I'm hopeful I can keep the momentum up.

    So glad to hear you're participating again, Claire! You're such a positive cheerleader--and I'm going to TRY to keep up with you. (g) And I can't wait to hear what you'll be working on!

    Good luck to everyone!


  4. Did it last year and had a BLAST. I had a new WIP and a decent idea of where each of the characters were headed and it really worked out. I'm not doing it this year. It's been to crazy this year and I'm sooooooo close to getting my current out to Beta readers and don't want to stop.

    Good luck to anyone participating though. I'll be cheering you on and watching from the sidelines.

  5. I'm toting with the idea of doing it this year...unofficially...since I'm hoping to use it to finish drafting my current WIP. I'm also considering the sequel to my current WIP, but I'd really like to finish the current one.

    I don't really have the time to do it. But I'm more tempted this year than i've ever been, even when I had more time before.

  6. Tried it the year before last and failed miserably because I didn't hold myself accountable and the story was pretty much done anyway.
    Then, last year, I needed a whole pile of words to finish Out of the Water - and NaNo gave them to me! Sure, I cut a lot while editing, but I think I would have gone through that anyway; it just would have taken a lot longer (months and months) without NaNo. And I seem to work better overall with lots of words to cut and rearrange - adding stuff is harder.
    This year, though, I'm heading in with a brand new idea. Only a handful of scenes under my belt. We'll see. I really hope I don't stall.

  7. I wasn't an official participant, but found the comraderie at the Forum among those who did to be a great way to go. I did create 23K new words for my existing WIP. It was the climax/denouement sequence and it worked. This year, I'm going to try to speed through the middle, but only if I finish some in depth character work first. Whatever I finally do, I'll be cheering all you speed demons on. ; )

  8. I suck at Nano. I just can't write at that pace--I am an edit-as-you-go type who will pause and go back over every chapter after writing the next. And I think that's actually a very decent technique for ensuring consistency and a steady pace. I've just started a new project so I'll still be writing, but no point me rushing when it doesn't feel natural.

    Good luck to all taking part!

  9. Last year was my first - and I am now revising my first novel thanks to NaNo. I'm hesitant to start a second novel with NaNo this year, and I was thinking of using my WIP's rewrite for NaNo. However, after reading your cautionary tale about your experience with an existing novel...I'm rethinking that. Decisions, decisions...

  10. It's three years since I NaNoed and that work is now nearly a full first draft. Wow.
    I was hoping to have that draft finished by November and I do have a sequel I'm waiting to play with, but...
    I don't want to essentially take November off from the draft process
    but on the other hand, I've got most of the sequel in my head. I'm pretty sure I could come out the other end with a pretty good first draft of that, that wouldn't need another 3 years to pull into shape.
    Don't know what to do.