Monday, October 31, 2011

November 1, Round 4

This will be my fourth year participating in National Novel Writing Month. I "won" in 2008 and 2009 -- I reached 50,000 words -- but bombed out pretty early in 2010. The first time was awesome because it gave me a huge self-esteem boost. I wrote 50,000 freaking words in one month, despite having a full-time job, a wife, Thanksgiving with the relatives, and whatever other excuses I was using to not engage in creative activity back in 2008. I felt like I could do anything.

A few months later, I went to edit that novel and realized that if I wanted it to work, the whole world would have to be rebuilt from scratch. I opted to leave it alone and started playing around with other ideas. I won NaNo again in 2009 with a different story, which felt a lot less ridiculous than the first one, but there was so much excess garbage in it that I never bothered to try and clean it up.

See, one of the downsides to NaNo is that, in the name of reaching word goals, it is very easy to engage in shoddy writing. I don't mean things like focused freewriting in order to feel out where the characters want to go. I'm talking about crap like naming your character "That One Guy Who Has The Dark Hair And Who Might Be Gay, Please Figure This Out For Draft Two" or writing unrelated nonsense that will be excised on December 1. After NaNo 2009, writing just became difficult for me because I had polluted my style so much that I hated everything I wrote. I didn't do much writing in 2010.

When November 2010 rolled around, I hadn't done any planning. I figured, what the hey, I was good at BSing my way through a story. After typing "Screw this, THE END" for the fifth time, I decided it wasn't worth it to try and finish.

This year, I'm taking a different approach. Rather than just thinking about a story ahead of time, I've done actual work. Characters, setting, back story, all kinds of stuff is done in advance. I have a rough plot outlined, though I won't be upset if I deviate from it. I have also sworn not to deliberately write anything that I'm going to cut. That means my characters all have names and if I get stuck on a particular plot point, whatever un-sticking trick I use will leave me with words that will benefit me in the rewrite (i.e. I may switch to a different character's viewpoint to figure out what is going on behind the scenes while I sort out what my viewpoint character is going to do next). I'm not going to do things that are going to create even more work for me when it comes time to revise.

We'll see how this goes. This might be the last year I do it. It was good for me in 2008, but every year since then it has been a speed bump on an otherwise productive road. Speed bump? Maybe a pot hole. One time I hit a pot hole and got a flat tire. However, if I don't let it be a pot hole, I bet it could provide quite a boost. As I said, we'll see.


  1. I think your approach this year is going to make a huge difference in your overall satisfaction level. You may not reach 50K, but what you get, you may actually be able to keep. I've never reached 50K, but I've also never thrown out my entire NaNo efforts, either. It's a trade off. Aim for 50K regardless of quality or aim for quality and hope for 50K. The important thing - in my opinion, at least - is that you're setting aside writing time and actually using it to write. That's not something that's always easy to do.

  2. So far, things are going pretty well. I'm supposed to be at 10k, and I'm at 5k, but it's a pretty decent 5k. It will definitely need to be rewritten, but conceptually it's working pretty well. I'd like to hit 50k, but I'd like it better if I ended with stuff I liked enough to fix up.

    And I agree, setting aside time to write and writing are the important part.