Back when I first began writing, I found out about NaNoWriMo and thought what a cool idea! There was so much I loved about the concept: committing to writing a novel in 30 days, the community, the support of fellow writers. The concept that everyone has crazy-busy lives and the only way to become a writer is to park your butt in the chair and write–no matter what–really resonated with me. So many people I knew talked about how they wrote their first book with NaNo, or their NaNo book went on to become a bestseller.
I signed myself up. At the time, I was already writing the equivalent of a novella a month in fanfiction. Stretching my output to 40 or 50 K would be a snap.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the crushing pressure putting a set number of words to paper each day would entail. I ended up with my first (and worst) case of writer’s block as I stared at the calendar on the wall and realized I hadn’t made my word count for the day. By the time several days had passed, I would hyperventilate every time I thought about sitting down to the keyboard. I gave up after only a week.
It took me a while to find my groove again after that. At first, it wasn’t clear to me why NaNo proved to be such an unexpected stumbling block. I was already a productive writer. So what was the problem?
Well, for one thing, NaNo asks that you simply sit down and pound out the words–no going back and editing. No correcting. You’d think as a die-hard pantser, this would be right up my alley. I could understand why someone who is meticulous about plotting might find NaNo challenging (unless they spent October plotting out their NaNo book). But a pantser? Piece of cake, right?
No. See, part of my technique is I re-read what I’ve written over and over again, massaging and tweaking as I go. This helps me recognize underlying themes and plot points only my subconscious noted before. Then I can expand on those themes, fleshing them out or seeding hints along the way. I love doing this. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process, as cumbersome and slow as it may be. I’m sure if I was more of a plotter, I could speed my productivity up. The problem is too much outlining is a sure-fire story killer for me. If I do more than jot down a few notes or story ideas, I feel as though I’ve already written the story.
So the ‘rules’ of NaNo inherently go against the way I write. Back then, I didn’t realize this was the issue, nor that I didn’t have to stick that tightly to the rules as long as I made my word count. I just floundered and failed, and it took me so long to recover from it, I decided never again. NaNo wasn’t for me.
Which is okay. Really. Sure, everyone else you know is doing it, and when you see all your social media friends talking about it, you want to play along as well. But if it is not for you, THAT IS OKAY.
This year, I’ve got a story I’d like to get finished, so I decided to use the NaNo momentum to help me write. Only this year has been a very sucky year for me personally (and it’s not over yet, more bad news on the way). Seriously, I’ve had so many losses this past year if I put them all in one story readers would claim it was unrealistic. So I reasoned that I didn’t need any additional stress right now. No NaNo for me.
But a kind of Non-NaNo I could do.
What I needed more than anything was a commitment to parking my butt in my chair and writing every day, no matter what. Neil Gaiman has some great quotes along these lines. I was looking for the one in particular about butts and chairs and didn’t find it, but found this one instead:
“Just write. Many writers have a vague hope elves will come in the night and finish any stories for you. They won’t.”
So I decided November would be my Non-NaNo month. I made a very modest goal: 200 words per day. I figured I could commit to that without too much stress and that most days I’d exceed that goal. So far it’s working. I’ve been averaging about a thousand words a day, which is awesome.
Only my story is a hot mess. I’m sitting at around 34 K and my characters are snowed in together, learning about each other. From that standpoint, it’s kind of cool. Only they’re being too nice to each other and I have to figure out what’s going to happen when the snow melts, and how I transition from a blow-by-blow account of a snowy weekend to the progression of six months that I had originally planned for the story to take place. ARGH. I have a strong feeling most of this draft is going to end up on the cutting room floor.
They won’t be wasted. I’m learning about these characters as I go. But I’m also learning that even this Non-NaNo method might not be ideal for me. Still, the important thing is that I’m writing. As Nora Roberts says:
“You can fix anything but a blank page.”
Which is why I am still writing every day this month. Cheers to NaNo and Non-NaNo participants alike! Go us. 🙂