I have a confession to make: I’ve NaNo’d. And I’ve NaNo’d badly.
I know the rules for National Novel Writing Month. It’s all about the word count. The aim is to bar all excuses and get that first draft down. Goal is 50,000 words in the thirty days of November, during which you mark your progress in your NaNo profile.
For the past three years, I’ve used NaNo to plump up the word counts of my side projects while working on my Demimonde series. But I’ve never hit my 50k goal. Not once.
The biggest obstacle to getting my first draft down isn’t writer’s block or inspiration or ambition. Plain and simple, it’s time. I work full-time outside the home (as well as inside the home, thanks to my wonderfully over-active family life). My writing time is at a premium: solitary mornings between school bus and work, waiting time while kids are at judo, a few hours on my days off.
I’m willing to try any system that forces me to sit down and write. This summer, I participated in a Fast Draft with a group of writers, during which we wrote in sprints with support from each other. I had a major deadline to meet and the week-long event fueled my drive to meet it. (For more on my experience with Fast Draft, read this.)
The annual NaNo is another tool I try to use, but I always feel like I join in with a handicap.
Think thirty days is too short a time to write a novel draft? Try ten. That’s all the time I have to participate. I suppose if I could write 5k a day on each of those ten days, I’d have it made. Although I have never actually managed that, it does provide me with a theoretically plausible goal. That’s why I NaNo each year—there’s always hope.
NaNo: The Winners
I envy those writers who win their NaNo. I see their proclamations and their nifty I WON badges all over the place and I invariably end up scolding myself for not trying harder. But I don’t scold very hard or very long because, while I was never a definitive winner, I usually got good work done.
And NaNo’ing isn’t just designed to give writers an exercise in endurance or inspiration to get those latent stories written. Our WriMo books aren’t always meant to hide away in drawers and on hard drives. I’ve read accounts where writers went on to finish the books and get them published. You can see the lists of books that NaNo participants have published, many by traditional houses.
Stuff like that is inspirational. More so, it's intimidating for the rest of us.
Sure, there are loads of NaNo winners, and heaps of success stories for the books that made it to the light of day. But I was never one of them. I’ve never hit 50k in a month. I’ve never ended up with a first draft by November 30th. That’s why I feel like a bad NaNo’er.
My project in 2011 fared pretty well, with just over 30K for the month. I might have actually written a little more, but I was doing final edits on the first Demimonde novel, which came out the following March. NaNo 2012 was completely abysmal by comparison; I simply wasn’t committed to the project because I was busy promoting the first Demimonde book while editing the second, which was due out in six months. I think I spent more time revamping my NaNo profile than I did writing.
This past November, my edits on the third Demimonde book had been submitted early and I was between projects. I had space to breathe and think about an unfinished project that had been brewing in the back of my head. Although I only spent six days on NaNo 2013, I managed 15k words, plus a synopsis. (I think the synopsis impressed me more than anything because books are easy, by comparison.)
Three years, three projects, and none of them “winners”.
The Rest Of Us
But I didn’t lose. Not by a long shot. Despite my shortcomings, I think there may be hope for me yet because I decided NaNoWriting doesn’t have to be limited to a single “Mo”.
The project from 2011 didn’t just evaporate in the ether. I pulled it out this past summer and read through the unfinished book. I still loved the idea of the story and decided those 30k words were too much to let languish. In August, I resurrected the file and enlisted the help of a professional reference/fellow author/good friend and began investigating the details of the psychology in the story. I went on to finish the first draft in early October and revised over the next two months. Bugged a few beta readers, entered a few contests, revised some more…and today it’s ready for the eyes of an editor.
It took two years, but my NaNo ’11 book got written, got edited, and got submitted. Hopefully, it’ll get published, too.
Two years to a complete first draft. Not thirty days. And I don’t feel bad about it.
The True Spirit of NaNoWriMo
In the meantime, I carry a bit of NaNo around in my writer’s soul every day. I look forward to the NaNo emails that arrive throughout the year.
Right now we are in the "I Wrote a Novel, Now What?" months. A recent email addressed helpful topics for all writers, including tips on editing, participation in writers’ communities, and an invitation to a program on the subject of self-publishing.
Writing a novel isn’t a dash. It’s more like a relay race, and your novel is the baton. The first leg of the race is the first draft. Then, you pass the baton on to the edits and revisions, which make several more laps. The race still doesn’t end there; you hand the baton off to critique partners or beta readers. Perhaps you’ll pass it to an agent or the editor of a small press. Then the edits and revisions do a few more laps before reaching the finish line, where your readers await.
Does it sound like a lot of running in circles? Sure it does. But never for one moment think you aren’t going anywhere. Even a spring can be straightened into a straight line—and the length of it may surprise you.
Some writers can get the first lap done in thirty days, during NaNoWriMo. I’m not one of them. But I do encourage every writer to participate. Don’t miss out on a fabulous program just because you can’t write for thirty days or because you’re sure you can’t get that word count down. You may not make the 50k goal and you may not earn a Winner’s badge, but you’ll have a new reason to sit and write, a source of encouragement and support, and access to helpful resources throughout the year.
In the long run, you just might finish that book, and edit it, and publish it. To me, that’s a huge win.
Author's note: out of the four books I started during NaNo, two are now published. One is through The Wild Rose Press and has won several awards...the other became my indie-pubbed international best seller.
Do not underestimate the power of the work you do during NaNo. Start writing, keep writing, and don't slow down! Good luck, everyone.