Last year I wrote a big long thing about my NaNo experiences, and as it was rather well received I thought I’d bring it out, hose it down, biff a hat on it and do a lazy lazy repost.
So then! November. NaNovember. Did I ever tell you about the time I was the first person in the southern hemisphere to finish NaNoWriMo? Ah, those were the days. The scent of lemon, the halcyon days of spring, something to do with birds quite possibly, and of course I was very, very drunk. If you’re thinking about ‘doing’ NaNo I really recommend it, it’s a great chance to just get some words out without worrying about anything except your wordcount. Some people say this is a rubbish way to write, that you should be focusing on quality, to those niminy-piminy naysayers I say away! Away with your negative applesauce, go spread your brand of gloomsome folderol elsewhere!
But anyway, here be the goods:
2001: I’m twenty years old (or similar) and everyone is too polite to tell me I’m rubbish at writing. I stumble upon NaNoWriMo, lo! What’s this? Fifty thousand words in a month, are they mad? With youthful arrogance and untoward bravado I sign up anyway. November 1st arrives sooner than I had expected, and I’m struck senseless with a lack of inspiration—what to do? I have no story! Aha, but I do have a project, a silly wannabe-Pratchett thing that could use some words. I’ll just write that! Days pass. My word count hovers at two or three hundred. What to do? Just keep writing, harder and longer than I’ve ever written before! More days pass. My daily word count is now in the dozens. No motivation, no plan, no outline, I don’t know where this story is going, I’m just making this up as I go along, I don’t know what to do!
November 30th rolls around.
I barely dare look at my word count.
But I must.
Shock. Disbelief. Somehow I’ve written fifty thousand and sixty-seven words in November. Fifty thousand and eleven of them are unreadable rubbish, but this doesn’t matter. I have joined the elite circle of NaNoWriMo winners. Fifty thousand words in a month; to this day I have no idea how I managed it.
2002: I am a year older; I am a year wiser (theoretically). This time I have a plan—vague, ill-conceived, barely workable, but a plan nonetheless. I will structure my novel into vaguely-linked segments, and each segment will be about anything I want, in whatever tense I want, in whatever style I want. Fantasy, comedy, slapstick, high adventure, Lovecraftian horror, all of these would have a place in my grand second NaNovel. My plan has a secondary component; daily word count goals. This worked better than I expected, and was something I kept as part of my NaNoWriMo armoury.
November 1st: I start writing.
November 4th: This is easy. This is fun. I’m getting some great words out and meeting my daily goals without hassle, who needs an outline, who needs a plot, I’m sure things will tie themselves neatly together once I get near to the end.
November 12th: Over halfway there! Yes, I’ve resorted to retelling my favourite myths and legends as stories-within-stories, no, the plot doesn’t seem to be anywhere near any kind of resolution, yes, I’ve lost track of at least two characters, but I’m sure it’ll work out in the end.
November 17th: WHAT AM I DOING.
November 20th: HELP.
November 22nd: I have met every one of my daily word count goals, but I am not proud of the things I did to achieve this. The story has figuratively exploded, a giant in-universe retcon in a desperate attempt to gain structure and purpose. On the positive side of things I only have twenty thousand words to go.
November 24th: THESE ARE THE LONGEST TWENTY THOUSAND WORDS IN THE HISTORY OF ALL THINGS.
November 25th: Screw it, I’m giving up.
November 25th 1/2: Oh all right then fine I’m not giving up, I never give up, let’s just write anything and see what happens.
November 26th: Uneventful.
November 27th: In a classic fit of anticlimatic activity, somehow I edge over fifty thousand words. The completed manuscript is unsalvageable, but once again, somehow, I have won. I suspect the daily word count goal may have been a contributing factor. Unexpectedly, I’m looking forward to next year’s NaNo. Yes, next year, I’ll have a PROPER plan then!
2003: I actually DO have a proper plan this time. I know you were expecting some kind of deflation joke but this isn’t a book, this is my LIFE. I write notes, I cobble together a basic eight-page outline, I make my daily word count goal chart, I start writing.
Eight days later, I have fifty thousand words and a completed story.
I feel fantastic.
This was the year in which I was the first person in the southern hemisphere to win. The book I wrote is … not terrible. Not entirely. The story of a girl who lets her imagination get the better of her, who is stalked by her fridge, who is visited in her dreams by a man she’s known since she was a little girl, strange and lonely. No, not entirely terrible. With work it could be publishable, but blech, work. On to the next; 2004 will be even better!
2004: This year is not even better. I come into NaNovember without an idea; blind, I start writing anyway. The first two attempts are dismal failures, I get five thousand words into the first before giving up, over ten thousand into the second before abandoning ship.
The third idea holds promise; a fantasy story with intrigue and machinations and spycraft and I didn’t outline it at all so everything fell to pieces after twenty thousand words. Nevertheless I struggle on, write some decent scenes and some cute dialogue and then realise that the story is never going to come anywhere NEAR completion in fifty thousand words. I snip it off with an utterly unsatisfying cop-out ending and call it a learning experience. Still, I wrote fifty thousand words in a month so that’s a technical win.
2005: Hectic. My November was spent in Japan, I think I arrived on October 30th or something ridiculous like that. Fortunately this was the dawn of the era of flash drives, so I wrote the whole thing on a one gig USB stick and borrowed computers. This was the year I came the closest to losing, I submitted my finished manuscript six hours before the deadline. Not a bad little story, actually, but it needed more than fifty thousand words to tell it—another cop-out ending, less unsatisfying than 2004’s, but nowhere near a publishable story.
At this point I am beginning to suspect that outlining may be a good idea.
2006: Despite my suspicion about outlining, I don’t outline this year. Instead I write Fairytale X/Once Upon A, Like, Time, which is a collection of fairytales retold by a semi-clueless teenager trying to understand just what the heck they were going on about, with a lot of MST3K-style snarking. Kind of fun, kind of quirky, kind of shallow. An easy fifty thousand words, but at what cost? I feel like I wasted this year. 2007 will be different.
2007: I don’t really remember what I was doing around this time, but 2007 saw the creation of brother-sister pair Apples and Oranges. They live in a world not unlike our own, except just a teensy bit more awesome. Kind of a fun book, but structurally rubbish. (Still not outlining at this point, and it really, really shows.)
2008: Last year’s book was pretty fun, I should write a sequel to it! That’s a grand idea! Except I was never clear on the story I was telling so the book kind of just fizzled out. Fifty thousand words of pointless (though kind of fun) fluff. On to the next.
2009: I’m starting to take writing more seriously. I’m also starting to appreciate the value of outlining; of having a plan before I begin. I have a lot of ideas for Apples and Oranges, so I outline and then write the third in their series, a quirky little thing about the creation of a Pokemon-like game by the Free Art Academy Apples attends. It’s fun but terribly, terribly self-indulgent, although the climax, wherein Apples and OJ use their spirit guides, David Bowie and Michael Caine, in a Pokemon-style battle, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever written. (To me, I mean, not to anyone else. Anyone else would read it and just think, “This author is mad, and not in a good way”.)
2010: I’m starting down the road to indie authordom. E-publishing has not come up on my radar yet, but I’ve put a few books out in print (to be universally ignored). At this point I had written Miya Black I through IV, was struggling with V, and had also written Birds Of Passage and The Boy & Little Witch. My intention had been to write the fourth book in the Apples and Oranges series, about the adventures of OJ’s band, and I had some great ideas for it … but in the last week of October an idea came out of nowhere and wouldn’t leave me alone, a superhero story, a diary thing—I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Come November 1st I wrote notes like a maniac, hammered out a pretty detailed outline, and by the end of the day I had eleven thousand words written. Day two, another nine thousand. On day three I got serious, put my head down, and got up to 41,000—and ran into a problem. The story was finished! There wasn’t anything more to tell! But I worked on it that night, I read through and thought about things I could include or expand on, and eventually I realised that there was something significant I could add to it and that took me over fifty thousand words. Phew. So last year I finished NaNoWriMo in four days, and came out of it with Charlotte Powers: Power Down. You’d think it’d be an unbelievably rough first draft, but in fact it turned out to be one of the cleanest I’ve ever produced. I took a couple of weeks to edit and proof and eventually I published it.
2011: The book I wrote in four days is by far my best-selling title; I’ve sold twice as many copies of Power Down as I have of all my other books combined. Yep, life is funny sometimes. This year I ran into an odd kind of problem, similar to the previous year: at around day six I ran out of story. I did all I could to try to add to the book, to wring out a few more words, but there was just nothing I could do. The story began where it began and ended where it ended and everything in between was doing what it should be doing, and adding more to that would be pointless—nay, wrong. I put that book aside and had a good sort of a think about things, and the next day I reset my official NaNo word count to zero and started in on a new book. Outlined it, wrote it, and got fifty thousand words by the 30th—which didn’t actually finish the story, but still, that’s a technical win.
2012: This year, I push myself. I want to get back that old feeling of panicked terror and crushing pressure. Fifty thousand words in a month is easy, if you’ve done it ten times before. Even a hundred thousand isn’t so much of a stretch. That’s why this year I’ve decided to write one hundred and fifty thousand words in November. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but that’s part of the fun. Most likely I’ll write a literary wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey thing first, then probably Charlotte Powers #5, then Tactics Heart until I drop.
I’m really looking forward to it.
In any case that’s my decade (and a bit) of NaNoWriMo. I’ve had some laughs and learned a lot, especially the importance of planning and outlining. Doing NaNoWriMo has also helped with my focus and discipline, has greatly increased my writing endurance, and has left me with about half a million words of unpublishable rubbish (but it’s good to get words out, no matter how rubbish they are). All in all, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now without NaNo. If you’re interested, do it.