Another year, another National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) concluded.
And here’s how the numbers played out:
Word count NaNoWriMo sets as the novel-written-in-a-month goal: 50,000 Words
Number of days spent on my NaNoWriMo novel: 22 (November 1-8, I spent touring Xi’an and Beijing with family)
Blog posts penned alongside my NaNoWriMo novel: 2
My final NaNoWriMo total: 24,076 Words
I’m a rather goal-oriented person; I’ve got a bit of a reputation for beating myself up over not attaining what were unrealistic aims in the first place. So those who know me well may be justifiably surprised to learn I’m at peace with having fallen short of even 50% of NaNoWriMo’s official goal. Just a few years ago, they would have been right; the numbers of the NaNoWriMo game would have been my primary focus. After all, I used to be that 14-year-old churning out a novel in the space of my 3-month summer hiatus from school.
Back then, I was among the strongest proponents of the just-vomit-it-onto-the-page-and-tidy-it-up-later theory. After all, that beautiful right brain does the creative, word-generating thing and the left-side takes command of the analytical editing bit. And never the twain shall meet, lest the critical component choke out the creative should both be used in tandem.
Certainly, this technique has its place; I still employ it for writing ventures that I’m having a particularly tough time slogging through. Clearing out self-editing distractions helps lubricate projects against which my brain has erected barriers of tiredness, distraction or disinterest.
But in 2010, I stumbled onto a new novel-writing practice. Previously when writing, I pounded out whatever words flashed into my brain, my fingers struggling to keep up with my mental typewriter. But when I returned to edit those drafts, I tended to get fixated on grammatical errors. I’d tidy every element until all was technically correct, but very little in the way of artistic sculpting occurred.
My 2010 writing model was just the opposite: As I crafted each sentence, I granted myself time to add that syntactic flourish, to hone in on that better word. I wasn’t going berserk, refusing to move forward until every word was spit-shine perfect. But I was getting my draft closer, so that when I returned for editorial passes, I’d already captured the artistry of what I was after, not just the bare sentiment. I was that much nearer the essence of what I wished to communicate. This slower pace also granted me additional time to analyze the content of what I was writing: Would that character really say that? Does his/her internal motivation support that action? What might the reader’s response be to this plot twist, that character? Instead of being 20 pages down the road before I spotted an inconsistency, I was likelier to be only 20 words gone.
The fact that I was making fewer typos was no small bonus, either.
I don’t often give myself permission to move slowly in things, so discovering this writing method was a real coup. In many ways, a time-centric program like NaNoWriMo was a backward step in my own particular writing journey. (No offense intended, National Novel Writing Month–doubtless many writers find that time pressure actually propels them onward and upward.)
But if you read my initial NaNoWriMo blog, you’ll know one of my big aims in boarding the NaNoWriMo train was to overcome severe Writer’s Block, to get back on the novel-writing horse, even if the end product wasn’t the next Great American Novel.
And that was a goal well met, perhaps even exceeded.
In the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I pushed past my anxiety about selecting just the right plot–I simply picked one of my many amorphous novel concepts, then utilized the Snowflake Method to develop it into a nuanced story. No one was more pleasantly surprised than I as I became increasingly attached to my blossoming idea.
In the end, it was this very attachment that caused me to scale back the speed of my NaNoWriMo word production. As I began penning my novel, I quickly realized the story called for a defter hand, as I was dealing with expansive world construction and complex emotional conditions. This wasn’t a story I could go blazing through in pursuit of a certain word count. My characters and concepts simply wouldn’t allow it.
This actually solved a great debate I’d had going into NaNoWriMo. The nearer the start of the contest came, the more I’d begun to question what my focus should be for the month of November. Should I chase after the alluring challenge of that 50,000 word count? Should I prioritize producing something of high enough caliber that I could utilize it beyond NaNoWriMo, without a total re-work?
In the end, the story solved the question for me; it refused to be told satisfactorily in any way but via careful and slow handling. The occasions upon which my projects have spoken to me that clearly have made up some of the most pleasurable moments I’ve known as an author. It is a gift, that kind of in-syncness with your project–where a character reroutes the plot because she can only lead you in this direction, or a setting makes itself so pronounced, it becomes a dominant force in shaping the tale.
And in that way NaNoWriMo was an absolutely successful experiment for me. Sure, my attempt to meet the 50,000 word goal was an utter disaster. But I’m learning to let word counts and artificial, self-set deadlines settle back into their proper place of guide, rather than rule. And NaNoWriMo delivered to me exactly what I asked of it–an exterior motivator to get me back over the hump of anxiety. It returned me to that beatific place where words and story seem to sing together gracefully and easily, rather than being fraught with fear of failure.
I’m sure NaNoWriMo means something a little different for every participant. For some, it’s a tool to push them toward finally writing that first novel; for others, it may be the motivator they need to tackle a writing project even after a full 8+ hours at their day jobs. As long as you can identify that goal–or be open to its changing along the way–I’d say NaNoWriMo is worth your while.
After all, I owe it a great debt. Whatever may come of my NaNoWriMo novel going forward, I can credit it with toppling my writer’s block.