I think the real reason NaNoWriMo starts on November 1st is, you can get a hell of a jumpstart on a novel when you’re fueled by the leftover Halloween candy the trick-or-treaters didn’t snag (or, if you are in charge of said trick-or-treating kids, you are eligible for the “I’m the one that feeds you, now hand over that Snickers” tithe.)
I am not among the sugar-fueled this morning. I didn’t watch the clock tick over to midnight and start typing. In past years, I watched the NaNo forums the last couple weeks of October and dreamed of the book I’d get halfway through in November (never did I think that 50,000 words a finished novel made).
Thing is, I’ve never won a NaNo. I’m generally a pantser, so the freedom to sit at the keyboard and let whatever I want spill forth for thirty days ought to be the best thing in the world. Problem is, it can be too free for my style. There are NaNo fragments of mine from years past where I went in with vague notions about the characters and plot, got a chapter or two in, then sat back and went, “Well, fuck. I’m out of ideas.”
And kept writing anyway, rather than sit back and think.
I can open any of those proto-books up and point at the place where the plot train sprouted wings and flew off the track. Those are the projects that got abandoned ten, fifteen, twenty thousand words in. Turns out, I need some kind of structure going in, or else I’ll flail about and bad things happen to an otherwise good idea. The problem with NaNo, for me, is this: you’re free, but you’re also under pressure.
That magical 1667 loomed over me every time I sat down at the keyboard, and it sucked. I was writing for wordcount, not word quality, striving to hit that daily goal. And if I didn’t, well. The next day was an exercise in trying to make up for lost words plus another 1667. It might not be that way for everyone, but for me, it sapped some of the joy out of writing.
Funny thing, though.
Night Owls started out as a NaNo novel, back in 2004.
I got about half a chapter in before it went off the rails, then meandered into useless, bland backstory for another couple thousand words. Long before November ended, I shoved it in a folder and didn’t think about it for a long time.
When I dusted it off again, sometime in 2009? 2010? I realized that first half chapter wasn’t so bad. And being removed from the words meant I was able to lance that terrible boil of a backstory without agonizing over its loss. From there, on the far side of the calendar from November, I wrote the rest of the novel.
It’s fitting, then, that I’m writing a good chunk of its sequel, Ghost Town in November. I won’t say that I’m spefically participating in NaNo I’ve already started writing Ghost Town, and that’s a NaNo nono but for purposes of cheering on my friends who are, I’ve activated my NaNo account for this year. Come find me if you’re writing, and I’ll offer you virtual tea and sympathy, share my candy stash, and give pep talks and commiseration if you need it.
I don’t know if I’ll get to 50,000 words. The difference between Ghost Town and ten-ish years of failed NaNos for me is, this time around I have an outline. Well, my weird version of an outline, anyway, which consists of scattered notes across several notebooks and emails to myself. I know these characters, too, and in theory, if I find myself going off on a tangent, it’s one that will relate to threads left dangling in Night Owls.
I also have a better feel for plot and structure than I did the last time I NaNo’d (2010, maybe?) I’ve got my notes from Viable Paradise to fall back on when I slip and get a case of the dreadfuls. I’ve written three other books in addition to Night Owls, which have given me a good feel for where I am in a book. I’ve learned to look at a scene, really look at it, and ask myself what it accomplishes. If it’s not moving along the plot or developing the characters, it’s outta there. I’ve also learned to let go, give that 1667 the finger, and write words I intend to keep, not ones that have no purpose beyond filling up a progress bar.
I think… I think maybe I’ve got this.
So, onward into November, my ducklings. And, because I’m super-amazing at cat-vacuuming, I’ll be postifying here throughout the month with NaNo musings.