I “cheated” for NaNoWriMo this year. You’re “supposed” to start a new project from scratch and finish it during the month…
Though the focus has certainly shifted significantly in the direction of paying more attention to reaching 50,000 words than to finishing a novel. For a lot of pro- and aspiring- authors, there is much derision of the ideas that 1) 50k words constitutes a novel or 2) 50k words is a lot to write in a month. Still, none of the writers I know who have made such comments have come close to keeping pace with NaNoWriMo this year, and quite a few people I know who have no intention of ever seeking publication (or worse: becoming a professional writer) have kept up or outdone themselves, and while carefully following the rules. Others are struggling, even while including all the words they write for school, their blogs, short stories, grocery lists, anything they write all month.
Of course, a struggle I see every year (my sister & wife, included) is in reaching the 50k word goal but not getting near the end of the story. My sister thought she was about 1/4 of the way through her story at ~30,000 words. She’s revised her plot since then, to reign it in to a reachable target. My wife is about to hit 50k tonight (the 27th), but is planning on continuing to write for the next week or more until she gets to the end of the story. And because the focus of the people in charge at the OLL, and thus of the participants, is on the 50k instead of the finished book… They’re both going to be winners. As a 9-year veteran of NaNoWriMo I have no disagreement with this assessment; anyone who sets themselves an ambitious goal like this and succeeds is certainly a winner. 50k words in a month, a book in a month, a screenplay (Script Frenzy is in April, I think), a long reading list… Set yourself a challenge that you never thought you could beat, then beat it, and you’ll certainly feel like a winner.
Within three or four years of discovering NaNoWriMo, I’d already ruined myself of the idea of writing a book / 50k words in a month being a challenge. Certainly not one I don’t think I can beat: the first year I tried, after setting aside 2 partial manuscripts, I wrote a 50k-word novel in under 8 days. The next year I wrote Dragons’ Truth on a manual typewriter in (I think) 26 days. For my third try, I wrote Untrue Tales… Book One in 14 days. (I intended to write Book Two in the 2nd half of the month, but when my writing stalled, I instead edited Book One, designed its cover, wrote its copy, did its layout, and got it printed & available for sale by Nov. 30th. Because I was already teaching myself to be a publisher by 2004.) Book Two came out of me a couple months later, within about 2 weeks. In September, 2005, I wrote the first 48k words of Book Three in a “single sitting” 60 hours long. So writing a book in a month is… Not a challenge, as far as getting the words down, for me. It makes it so NaNoWriMo isn’t much more of a good/winner feeling over simply finishing a new book, which is something I do 2-4 times a year, most years.
This year, I’d intended/hoped to get the entire Untrue Tales series finished (at least first drafts) by the end of November/NaNoWriMo. I started Book Four in July, didn’t write much in August or the first half of September, then buckled down and finished it by … October 14th, I think. Started Book Five a few days later, hoping to get it done before November, but only wrote 20k words by the end of the month. So the first 30k I wrote was the end of Book Five. Which is “cheating” unless I also wrote the whole of Book Six by the end of the month (which had been my plan), right? Sorta. But not really. Last Thursday night, around 10PM, I began working on Book Six. On a manual typewriter (my ‘new’ Royal Futura, which I wrote the bulk of Book Five on), so these word counts are estimates: I wrote the first 14k words in the next 18 hours, took a 6 hour break for my nephews’ birthday party, then wrote another 6k words by ~7AM Saturday morning. Which put me at 50k total new words in November. Yay!
Then … I’m thinking something in my brain chemistry must have shifted, dopamine levels dropping or something, because my writing speed and quality dropped precipitously. In the next 3.5 hours I wrote one page, in which one of my characters was suddenly and unexpectedly suicidally depressed. Probably a reflection of what was going on in my own head at the time. I knew I probably ought to give up writing, but I was already committed to going to an all-night write-in Saturday night, so I just kept trying to write, all day Saturday, not calling it quits until around 4:30AM Sunday morning. I managed to write about 4k words in around 20 hours trying. Which is slow. And I think a lot of them are repetition of things I’d already written. Or out of character. Or wrong in other ways. So probably that 4k words will be deleted. But… I still wrote 50k words in November, right?
This week I thought I’d try re-reading Book Five and what I’ve written of Book Six before trying to write any more. To try to get a handle on what was repetition, where the story was going, et cetera, and get the rest of Book Six well in hand. Alas, whatever was going wrong with my brain, which began Saturday morning, continued at least until Thursday morning. I couldn’t read my book for very long, I couldn’t stay awake, I felt terrible, I couldn’t concentrate. All reasonably normal symptoms of depression. Not being able to work is a key problem of real mental illness. I managed to get through a day and a half of baking and cooking, getting Thanksgiving ready, and everything turned out good enough. (I still need to work on my pie crusts…) But I’ve decided that, as long as I actually have several months to get all this completed and still be on schedule (a schedule I invented), there’s not really any reason to be stressed out or trying very hard to struggle through to the end of Book Six by the end of the month. I’ll probably get it done in December. After my mind has a chance to recuperate/repair/recover from whatever this is.
Thursday they turned on the NaNoWriMo word count validator. I took Book Five and a few extra words to get what I uploaded to equal my actual (estimated) word count and threw it in. So I’m officially a “winner” again this year, at 54,150 words. I didn’t start a book from scratch & finish it during the month, but I worked on a book I was 40% of the way through, finishing it, and I got another one started and worked on it until it was 40%-48% done, which is mathematically very similar to writing one book from start to finish, right? Once again, I don’t like this year’s shirts. Mandy, who did win while I was writing this post, says she would like the winner T-Shirt if it didn’t have the arrow pointing up at her face. I definitely agree that the arrow makes the shirt less wearable. The only shirt design they have in stock right now that I really like is … only for women? Sigh. Mandy wants me to order it for her, instead. I’ll check finances, but I think the bill for eating at Denny’s tonight (at the write-in, where she passed 50k) ate the money we would/might have spent on that shirt.
Anyway, that’s that. My ninth year, fifth definite win (finished my 14th book & started my 15th). Mandy’s second attempt, second win. My sister’s first real attempt, and it looks like she’s going to win, too. I think I’ve decided not to try to take over the ML duties for Phoenix for next year, but my sister thinks she will, so that’ll be better than either: 1) the main ML they’ve had the last few years, or 2) no one, since both MLs are talking about quitting. We mostly participated in the East Valley region, this year, even though it meant several long drives back and forth from North Phoenix to Tempe and Mesa. The events were awesome, though, even when my writing was going badly last weekend, so it was a good decision. I’ll keep my eye on the situation, next year. It’ll be my tenth year doing NaNoWriMo. The books I’ve been working on this year will certainly be published by then; I don’t know which of the many ideas I have waiting to be worked on will be at the front of my mind when November rolls around again, but I know I’ll work on something. I think the challenge, for me, isn’t in hitting 50k words but in having my mind in the right state with an idea properly matured & ready to go when November hits. Last year I wrote Cheating, Death 6 weeks early, and wasn’t ready with anything else in time for NaNoWriMo. Always a crapshoot, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to just do 1667 words/day, all month long: Like every other attempt I make at writing, it comes in fits and starts, bursts of writing 5k, 10k, 20k in a day, sometimes several such days in a row, and then days or weeks or months with nothing. …and 1k- to 2k- word blog posts every week or two, too, eh?