Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

NaNo Reflections

by Peggy Kurilla
2004, Peggy Kurilla


Following the advice to try anything twice -- to be sure you like it -- for the past two Novembers, I have joined the collective madness of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo).  Now, having completed the second 50,000 word dash, it's time to reflect on the experience.

Obviously the first thing to consider is productivity.  The challenge of NaNo is 50,000 words on a new novel within thirty days.  Both times, I completed a very rough first draft of a novel:  in November 2002, I wrote Nemesis, a contemporary fantasy; in November 2003, I wrote From the Depths, a paranormal romance.  The drafts are short -- 50,100 words for Nemesis and 52,000 words for Depths -- and unsalable at their current length, but I am proud that they're completed, because before them I had only written a draft of one story at 45,000 words.  For a beginning writer, NaNo might provide the spark to actually complete a draft of a novel.

Which leads into the second point:  NaNo requires an average of 1,667 words per day.  For those who go by page count, that's almost seven pages a day.  At least one commentator said, in effect, "Anything written that fast can't be good."  What this person has overlooked is that many professional writers write at that pace regularly; some do less, and a few do more. 

In my experience, however (especially since I have a day job that can be demanding), a consistent 1,667 words per day is almost too many.  There were days when I would get a solid 1,000 words before I left for work, and then come home knowing that I must write nearly 700 more to stay on schedule.  That can be mentally draining, especially when things didn't go as well as they could have -- like the Friday that I had 900 words before going to work.  Outside of NaNo, I would've felt proud of myself for getting that many and not worried about it.  However,I ended up having to stay at work until after 8:00 at night and got home around 8:30 to find that some friends had dropped in.  I wasn't able to enjoy the time with my friends because those last 767 words kept nagging at me.  By the time my friends left, I was too tired to write, and went to bed, leaving myself with a goal for Saturday of more than 2,400 words -- more than double my normal daily count.

A third point:  NaNo allows, and even encourages, advance preparation work like outlining, character studies, and whatever the author wants to do besides writing on the story itself.  That's good, because without an outline, I don't think I would have completed either story in the allotted time.  That time constraint, however, can present a different challenge as well.

As usually happens when I write, my subconscious kept sending me messages: "Wouldn't it be neat if...? And, hey, you missed this point about..."  And I put them in.  That's my fault (if a fault it is) but the speed and pressure of NaNo don't allow for the deep thinking time that might have let me see where I needed to take those add-ins and work with them both before their insertion and afterwards to keep the story coherent.

Partly as a result of these additions, both of my NaNovels ended up having to be substantially revised, almost to the point of throwing them out and starting over.  I can't say for certain that I would not be facing the same rewrites if they were not NaNovels, but I suspect that given the "dreamtime" to work with ideas from my subconscious, rather than throwing them down as a way to make the wordcount goal for the day, the revisions would be less daunting.

Am I going to participate again next year?  Maybe.  It's great fun, and knowing that there are thousands of other people doing the same crazy thing that you are is inspiring and heady stuff.

What will I do differently the next time I participate?  First and most importantly, I'll do a lot more pre-writing than I have for the last two, in an attempt to work out some of those "But what ifs" in the outline stage rather than during the actual draft writing.  I suspect that means that I'll be playing with the outline beginning sometime in September, but if it helps me avoid the frustration of having to almost totally rewrite a project, it'll be worth the energy.

Second, I'll make a big sign and tape it to the wall over my computer to remind myself that it's only writing.  If I don't make the 50,000 word goal, I'll still have made forward motion.  And I shouldn't feel guilty for spending time with my friends instead of writing, even if it means I "fall behind" by a few hundred words.

But that's for next year.  Right now, I have a novel to rewrite.