I love writing, but the fact is – my life lately has been unfavorable, let’s say, to finding time for it. No time. No energy. If I’m not exhausted, I’m too busy. Or both.
But. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And I decided that I would try it. Again.
Not familiar with NaNo? Here’s the basics: you spend November writing 50,000 words on a novel, which averages to 1,667 words/day. If you do it, you win! What do you win? A nifty banner for your Facebook page, and bragging rights (which are pretty damn cool; not everyone can do it!). Here’s the website: http://nanowrimo.org/
The first time I did NaNo was 2013. I was in the middle of my Young Adult Fiction class at University of Oxford, and our tutor had assigned a discussion: what is the one thing you would never write about? I said it would be history and especially, race relations in America, because I teach history and I deal with this on a daily basis. Why would I want to spend my precious writing time working on that?
Well . . . the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. That’s when Nicky arrived, and I spent what I still consider to be the best writing month of my life working on a rough draft of his story.
For some writers, NaNo is about writing a novel (although if you consider 50,000 words to be a novel, then okay. I don’t.). For others, it’s just to write. Period. That’s the track I’m taking this year. Although I have several novels started and drafted, and characters hanging on waiting for me to get back to them, it’s been so hard. If I can drag myself out of bed in time to get to work, it’s a blessing. I didn’t make a word count goal for myself. I don’t care about reaching 50,000 words. My goal for this month is to write at least five days week. Word count, schmerd count.
Of course, for others, the goal is to actually get that word count. Some authors do research in September and October, make all their notes, and on November 1, they’re ready to write. They may actually finish an entire first draft of a novel. I know of people who save up all their vacation and sick time so they can do nothing but write during November. Some finish novels they started last year, or at another time; others write short stories.
NaNo is tough. If it wasn’t, more people would do it. There wouldn’t be this great big rallying beforehand, where participants psych themselves up and go in swinging. Those first few days – even the first week – are usually fine. You get about 1500 words a day; you promise yourself you’ll make it up on the weekends. Then . . . life happens. Kids get sick. YOU get sick. Pets need attention. There’s grading to do, projects at work, family emergencies. You start thinking about your novel not as a collaborator (to steal one of Liz Gilbert’s ideas!) but an adversary that must be crushed. Those 1,667 words must be DESTROYED today!!!!!
And then . . . they become an albatross. You think oh, lord, I have to write . . . more than a thousand words . . . even more than fifteen hundred words . . .
The trick is not to get to that point. To keep it fresh and alive. That’s why so many people prep ahead of time by having research done, scenes laid out on notecards, character sketches in mind. So when they sit down, they have a place to start and a place to go.
There are a lot of novelists who have completed works during NaNo, and then gone on to sell them. In fact, here’s the official list: http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos. Most of these were published by small presses – but! See any familiar names here? Erin Morgenstern. Hugh Howey. Carrie Ryan. Sarah Gruen. Were their drafts perfect? NO! Especially Erin Morgenstern – she went through draft after draft after draft. And that’s something that new NaNo writers probably don’t get as much as they should – that when you get to November 31, even if you’ve completed the 50,000 words, you aren’t done yet, unless you just want to put it away and never, ever look at it again. But I guarantee you, that ‘novel’ ain’t done.
That’s why I’m not pressuring myself this year. I have enough pressure in virtually every other part of my life right now. Writing should be an escape. NaNo, for this year, is about reconnecting with my stories and characters. Reminding them that I’m still here. Seeing what they’ve been up to lately. Getting griped out – Nicky’s already been very vocal about how much time I’m spending with my historical romance, and my witch Rebecca keeps reminding me that she’s got powers and she WILL use them if I don’t work with her to finish up her story soon. But for now, I focus on what I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over what I can’t. I’m averaging about 900 words/day right now. I’m not asking for more. I’m not demanding more. I’m grateful for those 900 words.
Because they mean I’m writing again.
And this year, for me, that’s the only thing I want from NaNoWriMo – just to write again.
Here’s a great blog post from Erin Morgenstern about NaNo: http://erinmorgenstern.com/blog/