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To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo…

I’m getting closer to finishing the first draft of my novel Sky High and I couldn’t help but notice that it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo again. For those of you who have not heard of NaNoWriMo before, here a brief definition, taken from their website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

You can find a more detailed description of how it works here: http://nanowrimo.org/how-it-works

Sky High was my NaNoWriMo 2014 project and made me reach the 50000 words goal for the first time. It was a huge rush, but it also took a toll on my private life. With a 40 hours day job, a pregnant wife and Japanese classes on Saturday mornings, there was little time left for writing. However, to get to 50000 words in 30 days you need to average 1667 words a day – that’s almost two hours of daily writing time for me.

One of the cool and motivating things about NaNoWriMo is the stats that they provide. Take a look at my 2014 progress:

Sky High NaNoWriMo Progress
Sky High, NaNoWriMo 2014 Progress

As you can see, I got off to a great start, but was struggling to keep up. Around the two-weeks mark I didn’t get to write for a couple of days, but still managed to be right on schedule. However, a week later, things got really out of control.

I still remember my worry about not hitting 50000 words. NaNoWriMo was a constant companion that month, always present in my head. My wife complained that I stressed myself out too much, but at the same time she was really supportive. Because of that stress, I have been saying that I would not participate in NaNoWriMo 2015 – and my wife happily approved of that decision.

But now the date is getting closer and ideas for new stories are popping up in my head. I feel the temptation: Yes, it was hard. Yes, I put myself under a lot of pressure. But man, I can’t begin to describe how incredible it felt to rush along the words, almost as fast as I could think of them, and discover my own novel.

I’ve said it before: When I read a good book, I eventually stop noticing the words and I just “see” the images they create in my mind. While writing Sky High, something similar happened a couple of times: I stopped noticing that I was typing and just observed how my story unfolded. The experience was quite like reading, but so much more intensive. I guess that, because it was my mind spinning up these images, my immersion was a lot stronger.

I want this rush, I want to ride this wave of creativity again…

But I also have to be realistic. I should not start a new project before at least finishing the first draft of Sky High. After winning NaNoWriMo in November last year, I needed a rest. And then there was Christmas. And then some other things happened in my life. In the end, I did not get back to working on Sky High until July-August this year.

It was hard to get into the project again. Really hard. It had become stale and I had to reread everything that I had written so far. I had already forgotten about important details and had lost the feeling for the story, which made it really hard to find the motivation to go on. (Although it made for an interesting and surprising read. “Oh, cool, I didn’t remember that,” or “What, really?” were just some of my reactions) But I remembered something that Brandon Sanderson said – I think it was in one of the Write About Dragons recordings: The main reason it took him so many years to get published was that he did not edit his books.  Back then he would finish writing a story and then start a new project. I didn’t want to commit the same error, so I pushed through and built up some momentum again – although it is weaker now than it was during NaNoWriMo.

That’s why I don’t want to lose that momentum again, so finishing the first draft of Sky High is a prerequisite for participating. But I also do not want to repeat my error from 2013: I got to know about NaNoWriMo very late – maybe 5 days into the competition – and started writing without any idea of what it was going to be. I managed a promising start, but about 5000 words later I hit a wall. I reached the end of the few ideas that I had and wasn’t sure how to continue. So I stalled and the number of words I had to catch up kept adding up. The amount became staggering and eventually I lost all motivation, so I abandoned the project.

In my opinion, for a successful NaNoWriMo, you should start worldbuilding your novel in October already. Think about the setting. Create some history. Invent some conflicts. Build the fabric of your world. All these will work as fertilizers when you start writing in November and grow your characters and story. Every minute spent thinking and plotting in October will pay off tenfold.

So, I should get back to writing. And maybe, maybe, I’ll be able to be part of this great wonderful experience that is NaNoWriMo again.

What about you? I would love to hear your NaNoWriMo stories. What has your experience been like? Is it the first time to participate? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email.

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