So that was NaNoWriMo

November, as you may know, is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for those of us in the know. It’s an organized effort to help people write a 50,000 word novel over 30 days, and I have been avoiding participating since its creation nearly 20 years ago. It should be a good fit — I am still working on becoming a novelist, after all, and this is a place where you can come for encouragement, methods, and overall support as you recklessly tried to wring 1600 words a day our of yourself for an entire month.

So when my key collaborator and friend Gregory said that he was doing NaNoWriMo this year and asked if I would do it with him, without overthinking it I said yes. I looked at all the positive aspects to sitting down and doing this, and chose a story that I’ve been sitting on for nearly 20 years myself, my SF amnesia thriller The Tunnel. I looked around and realized I had some solid starts on the outlining process and good notes on character for the book, and that I may very well have enough to carry me through to the end of it. And so on November 2nd, I started writing.

For the first half of the month, I did alright, until things got crazy and weird with November and Thanksgiving and school (as they always do) and I ran out of steam. You can view my work here, and see some of the stats behind my first try. For the first couple weeks it was a reasonable experience: I wrote, using Scrivener and my outline to follow along, and got my novel up and running; I wrote scenes I had outlined, I wrote scenes I had not; I shoved characters into each other to see what they would say; I wrote a scene that had been sitting in my head for at least ten years and it was a beautiful experience; and I tried my damnedist to get up at 5:45 am and write for an hour every day, no matter the day of the week or how tired I was.

My goals for NaNoWriMo were many: yes, write a 50k book in the allotted time, but also get my personal writing rhythm up and running after a very stressful and life-changing year; learn to use Scrivener better, both for outlining and actual novel writing; and get back in touch with the novelist side of me who has been dormant for many years. Oh, and not lose my mind along the way.

See, I’ve always wondered why the hell they picked November for NaNoWriMo — what the hell were they thinking? I can think of 10 better months to pick, really any of them besides December would do, and with my family so closely tied to the school calendar, November is even busier now. To me, January seems like the ideal month, as it not only represents the clean, new start that we all need for an inspirational journey like writing a book, but after the 1st there are no major holidays, and life resumes very much in a day-to-day sort of way. November has one of the biggest, busiest holidays in the year, and with the stupid time change has too big affect on people’s abilities to keep their shit together (at least for me it is).

I don’t want to complain too much, but NaNoWriMo in November has never been for me, which maybe is even a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did write just over 20k words, and got some good materials down. I did get up most days before 6am and hit my computer whether I knew what I was writing or not. And I did force myself to not only better use Scrivener but go and see how much of a outliner I truly am.

Between 2002 to 2004 I wrote two and a half novels. Some day I might be able to turn them into something readable, but I always finished them with a feeling of regret and disappointment, not knowing why they didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I came to realize that I really need outlines and proper structure in place before I start writing. I noticed it in my word count every day — if I know what I’m writing when I sit down, I can crank out 1300 words/hour; if I have to figure all that along the way, it’s more like 800 words/hour. I can feel the difference in my mind too; being able to visualize scenes and confidently understand how characters are going to interact (because I’ve done all the background prep already) allows me to sit down and just write. But I really get mixed up if I don’t have those things. It’s been that way from the beginning.

I think NaNoWriMo is an amazing community and collaborative effort that helps people get novels written they would have otherwise just left in their minds. We need more books in the world, more writers, more creative people, and this effort is crazy amazing in what it tries to do. I’m so impressed with the overall community as well as the organizers and their support teams. As a whole, NaNoWriMo is amazing.

But I don’t think it’s for me. Yes, it was very important for me to do it this year — it got me out of bed, working on The Tunnel, and I now have the first 20k words in that book, which I will continue on early in 2018. But the pressure was nearly too much and I almost lost my mind. Another thing I have promised myself is to only work on one writing project at a time. I’m in the middle of writing a large RPG sourcebook (40k words is the goal) and am play-testing one of the scenarios here in early December. Plus Sun Spots is still on my plate as I work on getting the books printed and shipped out. So having this pressure of a daily word count, in November of all months (remember, tired and stressful), was not a healthy experience.

What I think it best taught me was that I am an outliner at heart, and that I really need a solid amount of work done before starting my novel. I’m glad for my 20k words and for the experience. But I think I might try it some other month.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Did you finish your book? Is November as crazy for you as it is for me?

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