November is over, which means that National Novel Writing Month has officially ended. How did you do? I was behind for the entire month, and I mean like really behind. I kept writing in this step ladder fashion. I would not write a thing, almost get caught up after a few sprint days and then just fall right back behind again. It was a cycle I was working, but that wasn’t working for me.
My last NaNoWriMo check-in post (Nanowrimo… It’s Almost Over And I Am STILL Behind!) I made the promise that I would kick this cycle to the curb and write every day. And I would make the goal word count of 50,000 words on time. And I did, in fact I finished on November 29 with 50,117 words! I am thrilled that I actually did write every day with the exception of two days, but because every other day that I did write, I wrote more than I needed to, including three major sprint days I was ahead of the game by November 26 and stayed ahead until I finished one day early.
So I finished, and that’s great. And it was fun, to make this kind of commitment and watch other friends try it out too (although I only had two official writing buddies, so if I participate again I want that number to triple or grow even more) now I get to figure out if it’s really worth it overall. It was something I kept coming back to while I was toiling away, trying to make my daily word counts: if NaNoWriMo was beneficial or not – at least when it comes to me and my writing.
So, let’s start with what this month did for me and my writing, and why I might do it again. The novel I worked on was not a new idea. It was an idea for a novel that I had been holding onto for seven years. I was just never in a place where I felt the time was right to get it out there. But this idea was for a kind of book that I would devour. A thriller with a serial killer hunting down his prey and a strong female character charged with taking him down. And it had the twists and turns and red herrings – and even better, a type of paranormal/supernatural element. I don’t like either of those words, but this girl had a kind of psychic ability that a lot of “psychic detectives” who actually assist real police in real cases have. And I did research on the limitations, potential, manifestations etc. of said abilities before the month started.
So this book was something I wanted to write, but I am a big believer in not forcing things. Whatever comes, whatever demands to be written – that’s what I work on, because while I may lack the time, and sometimes the discipline – I already have so many ideas that there is no way I can write all of the books I want to in my lifetime (just like I can’t read all the books I want to in my lifetime – ha!) so I’m never going to worry about running low on ideas. But this month I felt it was important to write this book, even if it wasn’t presenting itself to me – I would have to work to figure it out. And I was game.
This month gave me that kick in the butt – to work on something that wasn’t saying, “Here, I am!” and committing to write a good chunk of that novel down. I will always be thankful for that. And for someone who is big on daily goals and commitments and who constantly likes to grade themselves (I have it all worked out in Excel spreadsheets, I’m so serious, see: Checking In With Myself: 2014’s Goal For Overall Balance In My Life And A Look At The Past Few Years When I Wasn’t All That Balanced) this kind of setup, committing every day, along with so many others and encourage each other along – that is some kind of wonderful.
But beyond that push, and the word count I got out, I have to look at what I produced and what it turned my writing process into this month. And here is the thing, everything I wrote or at least 90% of it, sucks beyond the telling of it. How bad does it suck? So bad, that I don’t even want to edit it, I want to start over, because trying to rework something so inherently broken would just taint and limit whatever the book should be. And here is why I think it sucks:
1 – All of the characters are flat. The main protagonist sometimes seems like she is twelve and incredibly innocent, when she should be much more shaped by experiences than she seems to be. And all of the other characters are equally flat. When they talk, I can’t hear their individual voices, when they’re in a scene I can’t see them. They are nothing but shadows, instead of people – and it’s the first time I have really struggled with character. Normally I do a lot of character prep/work before I begin. Character bios, interviews, sketches etc. help me get a feel for characters, but I have to connect to them in the first place to even be able to do this. I never really felt any of them. I don’t know if this is because they weren’t fully formed and it wasn’t time or if I just needed to force the prep like I forced the writing.
2 – I felt the story was all over the place. I like writing chronologically, but because I would get stuck, I had to skip around. And this definitely affected continuity and if I would want to change a scene later – it was just a mess. I felt there wasn’t any tension built because of this, and a thriller needs tension more than anything else. But I felt 90% of the scenes were boring with few real winners that were worth keeping, editing and reworking. And with more than 50,000 words under my belt that is just depressing.
3 – Bad writing. I don’t usually think what I write is great the first time around, but I also don’t usually think it completely sucks either. I am worried about this or that, or think how to rework something, but the thing is I believe it is worth reworking. I was so focused on word count my writing is full of so much crap it makes my inner writer cringe. How could I have committed so many writing sins? First of all, every other thing on the page is a complete cliché. And while I am guilty of the occasional cliché – this was ridiculous. And I was aware of them as I was writing them, but there was no time to slow down and think of an original great way to say something because I had to make that word count! Oh my goodness was this frustrating. While I might always fear if something is going to be good and resonate while I am writing it, I have never actually thought, “Oh my God, this sucks so bad,” as I was writing something. But this is how I felt about almost everything I wrote, every single day.
When I am working on a larger project I turn out decent word counts, because I am inspired. I don’t think I manage 50,000 words per month, but I probably turn out at least 30,000 to 40,000 words per month. Quality words that I don’t absolutely hate and that are worth reworking. But with this month’s novel/finished product I feel like I can take my writing, create a rough outline for the book and trash the majority of it, only keeping the rare scene that I think works enough to be reinvented. A month and 50,000 words later – and it’s just sad.
I’m not sure if this is because I didn’t do enough prep work before the month began to really give my characters a shot (because I’m of the school that believes if you have your characters down, your story will follow and work, so long as you listen to those characters). Or maybe it was because I didn’t have a novel that I was “naturally” ready to begin, so all I ended up doing was forcing it, which is so not my style when it comes to writing. Or perhaps it was how NaNoWriMo is set up at its core. Where the total amount of words matters more than the quality of those words and how that total word count goal made me change so many different aspects of my writing process. In truth, I think it is a little bit of all of these things.
But I don’t regret participating in NaNoWriMo. It was my first time, even though I have thought about participating the last two years (2012 I just heard about it when the month was nearly over, and in 2013 I was at work hardcore on editing my memoir manuscript) and I finally did it. I can count this as something I have experienced, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And in all honesty, I might try it out again. I mean, this was my first time, so there is a learning curve there, and I realize this. Maybe next time I can work out the kinks. I can be more prepared, particularly with my characters, and maybe by the next time I do decide to participate my writing process will be more flexible to the demands and atmosphere that NaNoWriMo creates.
So who knows – maybe next year I do this and I have nothing to be skeptical about. Maybe next year I churn out something I really can work out through revision, rather than scrapping it and starting over. The nice thing about National Novel Writing Month is that it takes place every year. So there is always the chance for next time. 😉
*I would love to hear about anyone else’s experiences with NaNoWriMo, this year or any previous years, if people want to share them in the comments. 🙂