What Happened to NaNoWriMo 2017?

Keep Calm and Write On

Who cares about NaNoWriMo 2017 when NaNoWriMo 2018 is right around the corner? Well, usually I update my progress on the previous year’s NaNoWriMo at least a couple times before I even start thinking about the next one. But this year is different.

Yes, I did technically “win” in 2017, writing 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November. It was the toughest yet, and every year is harder than the last, so that makes 2018 look kind of grim.

While, for all my previous NaNos, I continued writing my novel until the entire book was done (which took more than one month and 50,000 words), I never finished writing 2017’s novel. Part of it was because I focused on editing four other novels almost as soon as I achieved the necessary word-count. But the bigger issue was that my inspiration simply dried up. All my wonderful ideas lost their luster, and the story lost its direction. And honestly, for a couple months, I didn’t even think about it.

With the next NaNoWriMo looming, I had two problems. The first, of course, was that I’d left the last novel unfinished. Unacceptable. And the second problem was that I had absolutely no idea what to write this November.

Then, for some reason, NaNoWriMo 2017 started plaguing me. I don’t mean that I was overwhelmed with guilt for not finishing it. Rather, its characters started reminding me of their existence at a time that wasn’t exactly convenient. They developed the oh-so-annoying trait of taking on lives of their own—when I wasn’t even writing! This one guy won’t stay despicable; he’s actually gaining dimension. Backstories are coming to the front.

This, I realized, could be a two-part solution. By life “interfering” and allowing me some space, my book developed in a way it couldn’t have if I’d insisted on plugging away at it. I hadn’t given up; I’d let it simmer. And now, I know exactly what I’m going to write this year.

Yes, a lot of the novel is largely written, but I have the feeling that much of it is going to end up consigned to the editing room floor. What I do write this year is going to be original or reconstructed from memory only. If I look at last year’s manuscript at all, it will only be to story-line check—no copying and pasting, I promise. I will start November at zero words, and I’m determined to end with 50,000. And once I’ve reached that goal, I will allow myself to merge the two novels, if still applicable.

Don’t let a novel that seems to have failed get you down. Stay creative, friends.

It Feels Like a Good Day to Write 50,000 Words

NaNoWriMo 2017 Badge

Okay, first off, I didn’t write 50,000 words today. As of this moment, I’ve written 2650 words today, but right around word 2550, I had 50,000 in my word bank, which means that I won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2017!

If you read my last post (click here), you know that I was really taking a giant leap this year, working with little more than an idea I’d gotten from a dream. (And my husband can attest that some of my dreams are really strange and don’t necessarily lend themselves to coherent narratives.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 graph

NaNoWriMo 2017 Word Count Graph

Add to that the challenge of this November’s brutal lack of free time, and I was lucky to keep up with the requisite 1667 words per day. In fact, I only kept up through day 15, as you can see in the 2017 graph. That nice diagonal line that’s going up? The bar for every day needs to reach that diagonal line in order to keep up with the word count. As you can see, I took a little dip for a few days. There was even one day when I only typed 201 words. Yikes.

And this was uncharted territory for me. Never before have I fallen behind. Usually I’m just ahead (see my 2016 graph below—and I thought that novel was hard to write), but sometimes I’m way ahead. (See 2013—doesn’t that make you sick? I don’t know how I managed that except to say that I had inspiration strike just about every day.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 graph

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 Word Count Graph

On Thanksgiving evening, my dad asked me what my word count was, and at the time, it was only about 33,500 (which I admitted with a cringe). Already, I had a plan to write 2500 that night and the following three nights, which would put me at 43,500 before I had to go back to work and reality on Monday. That would allow me to breathe a little, and I would only have to write a little over 2000 words for the next three days, thus giving me a tiny bit of cushion, and I would validate on the 29th.

Now it’s time to admit to why I had fallen so far behind, something that’s a huge NaNoWriMo no-no. About 25,000 words in, I realized I had a major flaw in my (half-written) novel and decided that, instead of tackling it in the editing stage, I would go ahead and fix it. Yep. That’s the OCD at work. Of course, I used the opportunity, while going back, to add scenes and fluff when- and wherever I could, but a lot of it was just reading, looking for the flaw, and fixing it.

Thanksgiving night, I decided I couldn’t afford to edit anymore, fast-forwarded to the end of my story, and just started typing thousands of words of info-dump back story. Yes, much of it will be woven into the larger story, so it won’t seem as dump-y in the end (I hope), but for now, I just need the words. (I even left in an entire scene that really needs to go, but I’m being a good girl and ignoring it for now.)

By Friday, I felt like I had enough words down that I went back and finished the edit, then started moving forward again. Yesterday, the epiphanies started to hit—finally! it only took 40,000 word to get there—and I wrote over 7000 words in one day. Whew. I can’t tell you the relief I feel. Meeting today’s word count was a breeze, and now the rest of my writing won’t feel as much “have to” as “want to.”

So if you’re stuck, if you can’t see the light at the end of your tunnel, stick with it! I promise you’ll be glad you ventured into the scary, dark unknown of your novel-in-progress. It’s Rainbow-Unicornland on the other side.

The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.

 

NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

The Book Birth Plan

 

Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)

01-become-a-writer-they-said

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.

 

So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that

02-scariest-moment

But

03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:

04-just-keep-writing-dory

So you do, but sometimes

05-i-dont-know-what-im-writing-about

Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,

06-what-idiot-wrote-this

Because

07-reason-4

And there are those times when the page stays blank because of

08-writers-block

But no matter what,

09-you-should-be-writing-batman

So your days start to look like this:

10-rapunzel

Through it all, you have to remember that

11-oscar-the-grouch

By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:

12-stages-of-writing-a-book

You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because

13-happiness-is-a-good-book

But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to

14-keep-calm-and-revise

Why Not Sign Up for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Fiction Fix Typewriter

For those who may be learning about Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time, it’s offered twice a year – the months of April and July – as a kind of warm up for the biggie, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in November.

Last year, I finished editing my previous NaNoWriMo novel at the end of June and signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July to work on an old, unfinished manuscript. This past April, I signed up again to work on a different novel that I’d started in December.

So why am I writing this when it’s almost halfway through July? To be honest, I almost gave up on the idea of participating this time. No, I haven’t finished the novel I worked on in April (although I did achieve the word count goal I set for myself). What happened is that I came up against a writer’s roadblock that I’ve written about numerous times: the mid-novel slump.

There is little more frustrating for a writer than knowing how your novel will end but then getting lost on the way. It reminds me of the family vacation we recently took, in which my GPS simply wouldn’t believe that our destination was on Sugarloaf Road. It was glad to take us to an empty field on Sugarloaf Mountain Road. While it’s a little misadventure we can laugh about now (and others who have been mislead by GPS can commiserate), at the time, it was aggravating because we knew where we wanted to be, just not how to get there.

Of course, with my novel, I can’t blame GPS. I was cruising along just fine and decided on the perfect twist to give my story more tension. The only problem was that I wrote myself into a hole in which I couldn’t write myself out.

Not knowing what else to do, I committed a big no-no: I went back to the beginning and started editing. Although it’s cost me a lot of time, I’m glad that I did. I’d written quite a few things that I’d forgotten, so I took notes along the way. I also trimmed a lot of extraneous words. And as I went, I realized what I would have to do when I got to that problematic scene that had effectively stopped my forward momentum: I would have to cut it.

There’s still tension, just not nearly as much. Although my scene isn’t the shocker that I originally planned, it’s no longer stalling the manuscript. It meant cutting 20 pages out that I spent days writing, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. I’m just glad that I’m moving forward again.

So now that I know what I’m doing, even though it’s 13 days in, I’m signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I am giving myself a low word count goal (12,000 words) because I hope that’s all it takes to finish this novel. Knowing my propensity for verboseness, it’ll likely be longer, but that’s okay. It’s often the scenic route that is most memorable.