It’s that time of year again. As October’s calendar pages peel away, first come the murmurings from friends and writerly acquaintances about NaNoWriMo. Then come the links and retweets from the writing community at-large. Somewhere around mid-month, the official emails from NaNo and my local Community Leaders trickle into ye olde inbox.
And like they do every year, the ghosts of old stories stir. Some of them whisper in their characters’ voices. Others rattle chains made of plot and setting and mood. If I close my eyes I can catch flashes of scenes that have been waiting all these years for me to lay down those first few chapters, or a glimpse of a face whose sharp angles I could pick out of a crowd.
Of course, I glance at my sidebar here, and Gid folds his metal arms and tells me he’d like to get back to Aunt Sadie now, please. A blonde woman looms behind him, the faintest outline of a crown on her forehead, and she is not amused by these upstarts either. She’s supposed to be next.
Back in September, I told myself that if I could get the first draft of Gid down by the end of October, I could take November and make an attempt at NaNo. There’s no way I’m cranking out 30,000 words in the next twelve days — that’s an even more intense pace than NaNo — especially not when we have guests coming from out of town this weekend and I’m a-travellin’ for work next week.
So, okay, that should settle it, right? No NaNo this year, buckle the hell down and finish Gid.
But oh, the temptation.
You see, this is the first time in nine years that I won’t be spending a significant chunk of November on the road. That’s where my momentum has always died in the past, and now those thirty days are a gloriously clean slate. No work travel. Thanksgiving’s at my house, and I can lose one day of writing to cooking, especially having twenty-four days before it to get a little ahead.
And I think… I think… Why not?
It’s a few things combined, this desire to muck about in things that aren’t on the schedule:
First and foremost, it’s the sense of we’re-all-in-this-together. I have a lot of friends who write. Being surrounded by other people who not only get story but share and can commiserate with authorial angst and neuroses is an incredible boon. When people I know are getting creative, I find my own productivity increases, too. So imagine that feeling not only concentrated into a span of days where you’re all at work on something, but there are a a couple hundred thousand other people doing the same.
Do I need that for inspiration? Well, no. I write the rest of the year, too. But there’s a sense of camaraderie and excitement around NaNo that’s awfully hard not to get caught up in.
It’s a chance to refocus. You know how they tell you to check the batteries in your smoke alarms when Daylight Savings time ends? NaNo is a kind of yearly battery-check for me. It’s a reminder to take a look at my output, see what I can do better, see what’s worked over the course of the year, what hasn’t. I can take the month to tweak my schedule and get my butt-in-chair time back on track. I can look ahead and see where I’d like to be at the same time the next year. Should I be doing that throughout the year? Probably. But I don’t — at least not always — so one big whopping reminder on the calendar works for me.
It’s a chance to catch up. Yes, the spirit of NaNo is to write a completely new project in thirty days. But, well, NaNo ain’t the boss of me. If I want to try finishing Gid and get started on Gavrick’s, that’s okay, too.
It’s a chance to play around. I am fairly decent at picking one story and sticking with it until it’s done. Sure, it took me a long damned time to get to that point, but it’s worked. Still, there are the occasional snippets of things “for when I have time” lurking in my inbox. They have a way of distracting me from what I should be writing. NaNo is an opportunity to sharpen a stick and poke at those. If I like where a story’s going, sweet! If not, I can decide it doesn’t work, set it aside, and come back to it later on with fresh eyes.
It’s a chance to take chances. This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. The introductory how-to-NaNo posts tell you the key to the project: don’t worry about editing, don’t worry about perfection. Just write. This is where I put a little asterisk on my own NaNo philosophy. I did try the whole “just keep writing, hit your 1667 words a day, and don’t sweat it” thing once. The story got wildly out of control, and while I got something like 20,000 words in before I gave up, very little of it is salvageable. It’s on my hard drive, still. I don’t even like re-opening the file because even thinking about tearing it apart and building it back up makes me cringe.
Want to play with a different voice for a while? Want to try your hand at science fiction when you primarily write romance? Why not allow yourself a thousand words, a chapter, three days, to try it out?
Last year I figured, 50,000 words, that’s 10 short stories if you figure the average wordcount is 5K. One short story every three days, why not? I wrote down a list of titles — no plot, no character sketches, just aiming to write whatever seemed to fit with the name. I failed miserably at the experiment, but by the end of the month I had the starts of two stories I intend to go back to. One needs a huge overhaul, since I changed POV and format halfway through. The other I think is a solid little thing that just needs more time devoted to it.
A lot of writers seem to think hitting the 50,000 mark is the only measure of success. Either you cross that finish line or you might as well give up. That’s where I stood the first few times I participated: if I wasn’t hitting the milestones on time, it wasn’t worth finishing.
Which, whoa. Hold on juuuust a second there. Having 40,000… 30,000… 25,000… 10,000 words isn’t good? It’s not an accomplishment in and of itself?
Hell with that. I hit a 10K milestone, out comes the dark chocolate. Shit, sometimes I break it out at 5k. Or one.
Point is, you’ve written something. The words don’t magically poof away come December 1st. The ink doesn’t fade from the page. Even if you’ve only managed a hundred words a day, at the end of November you’re 3000 words further in than you were at the start. I’m going to let you in on something. Come here. Hunker down. Ready?
Night Owls, which I finally freakin’ finished this past May, started out as a NaNo project in 2007. I got 1,845 words in — not even two days’ quota! — before I put it down. I didn’t pick it up again until last fall sometime.
So, y’know. It counts. Whatever you write, how much or how little, it counts.