Saturday, December 1, 2012

What I Learned From Failing NaNoWriMo

In the end, I didn't make the 50,000 word goal count for National Novel Writing Month. In fact, I didn't even "pass" if we're talking a percent scale with a mere 26,671 words on this novel for the month of November.

Officially, this is my second year competing, but last year I signed up somewhere around the 23rd. I thought, "Hey, seven days, I just won't sleep. Easy." I don't know why I was under the impression I was a wizard, but I made it to depressingly pathetic 43 words. And that was the synopsis I wrote on the day I signed up. I'm not sure that counts. Anyway, after having done better than last year, I decided improvement was improvement, no matter the end result. So here's the short list of what I learned from failing NaNoWriMo this year:

1. Pre-planning/outlining 
When they said novel-writing for the month of November, I took it to heart. I did all of my planning on Day One. As I mentioned earlier, I was adapting a previous short story into my novel, so I didn't start completely from scratch when it came to the main ideas. But I planned ninety percent on that first day. As well as wrote the synopsis, developed a book cover, and "casted" all my characters with movie stars playing their parts. It was a day of equal productivity and procrastination.

(For those interested. Working Title/Cover model for Almost Absolution.)

I found out somewhere around Day Fifteen that I was allowed to plan in October (or even before). I'm the kind of writer that needs a plan. This is no way means I (read: my characters) are going to stick to the pretty map I've placed before them, but at least I have purpose when I sit down to first write. This means that my outline changes a lot over the course of one plot. But because of the shortened time span, I felt like I didn't have time to plan. 

2. "Don't get cocky, kid"
So after fifteen pages had gone in my composition book of lovely outlines and scraps of scenes, Day Two through Day Six went amazing. I kept my pace steady, I felt like I could relate to my main character, and I was right on the line or even above it on where I should be if I was to finish in time. The give about a 1,500 word goal daily and it was easy. My writing went so well that first week, I decided on Day Seven I didn't need to write. On Day Ten, I thought, "Hey, we're a third a way through and there's plenty of time if I get behind right now." I had been way too damn confident. Around Day Fifteen, I panicked. And then I got writer's depression. (Where you don't write, but should write, but can't write, but want to write. See also, writer's moodiness.)

3. You're going to hit a lot more major blocks at once
At this excelerated time rate, you hit all your blocks right after another, instead of say, having the time to actually build your self-esteem back from the blow you took after Chapter Three where you decided no one was going to ever want to read what you're writing. I ran into dilemmas with tone: Was this horror too funny? Was this mystery too focused on the romance? On days, I was writing a horror. The next it was something scarily like a RomCom. Then it was a mystery with a main character who had zero investigative skills. I ran into dilemmas of plot: My "killer" changed from two different people, to a wholly different person, to the main character herself, to... Yeah, still not sure about that one.

Hitting so many dilemmas (that I might normally deal with over the span of a few months, not just one) was seriously messing with my head. Around Day 20, I began to wonder if it was worth even finishing. I was behind (at this point), but mostly I'd just gotten stopped so much I wondered if this wasn't just a generally bad plot. Or if generally I wasn't just a bad writer. Which is always the climax of every writer's block. And then you find a light somehow.

4. The meaning of "just write"
This has confused many people for years now. The thing is, writing is not just writing. Writing is planning, and rereading, and editing, and tinkering. Definitely, Writing is nothing if not a bit of bricolage. You've got to constantly be working it out on your mind, but at the end of the day, you can force yourself for 30 minutes to do nothing but stare at the blank page (whether it's a computer screen or paper). And move your hand(s). And write.

When forcing myself to spend solitary time with a blank page (means no internet, phone, etc) there has never been a time past 30 minutes where the page is still blank. I am incapable of leaving a page blank because I have too many thoughts. The constant tinkering mind during the day helps me know where the story is going when I get to my quality time with the blank page. (So I don't end up with a shopping list and post-its for a new blog entry.) Writing is never "just" writing. But writing is also a part of Writing.

5. There's no such thing as failing
Now on December 1st, I still have more of a novel than I had on November 1st. Which can't really be called failure in my book. And I know more of what works/doesn't work for me as a writer. And I know how to "fix" the mess of my current novel. Step one is going back to reread everything. Which I haven't done yet, and I'm honestly a bit scared at what I'll find. Without a doubt, I know once reading it, I'll have somewhere to move forward from.

Other benefits include new writing friends and having had a great time on the nanowrimo forum boards. It was fun to give advice to those desperately rushed posts, as well as to play some of the character games going around.

In all, this month has proved a wonderful jumping point for my novel. I don't have 0 words. I have 26,671 words. Yay! (And I'll get you next year, NaNoWriMo!)


  1. I have never done NaNo, but I have known about it forever. I just knew I couldn't have time. I did write my novel in four months, which I felt was a feat for me, lol, especially going to college at the same! You know something very important though--that writing isn't just writing! People who say that, really didn't put all the effort into it.

    1. Yes, four months is great! I'm going to try and keep myself and this deadline-oriented writing because I think it made me more productive. For now, I'm not writing papers anymore so I'm hoping my academic writing time can be replaced by fiction writing time. :)

    2. I WISH mine was! You are so lucky to have that time! Good luck! I hope you like the blogging world! :)

  2. Sounds like you are a great writer as well! I added photo's of Chris Freeburn's Nemo tree to the bottom of my blog so you can see it! Thanks for visiting! Love Penny