On NaNoWriMo

Posted on Dec 06, 2009

National Novel Writing Month. I had first heard about it in 2005. The marketing was catchy and lulled me into a false sense of security. It was a charitable way to kick-start my creativity and get my writing career going. However, that first year I don’t think I made it past 5000 words. Subsequent years (2006, 2007) saw that word count increase, but only marginally. Despite all the encouragement and slogans (“No plot, no problem!”) I still couldn’t get to that fabled 50 000 word mark. I didn’t think I would bother with it again after that.

My slogan it seemed was, “Don’t bother, quit early. Go out for beers. People will forget about it soon.”

However for one reason or another I decided to try again this year. I wasn’t as busy as last year, I had friends this year who were interested in doing it with me, and this time I was a little older and more keen. I think having friends along for the ride really helped. It kept the enthusiasm going. We had someone to brag to and someone to compete with. It gave us an excuse to go out for brunch on Sundays and drink coffee all afternoon. This year was a lot different than the previous years.

I think I learned something about writing novels too. I had bought a copy of Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer after reading some reviews. In it there are a few gems on the process of writing novels. The debate for many is whether to write it all at once with little planning or to spend time up front structuring your novels and then filling them in. Now far be it from me to explain to you how all arguments end in two sides, but after getting through this grueling November throwing words to the proverbial page like a coked-out Pollock I have got to say: there is a third alternative. If you have a kernel of an idea just try the NaNoWriMo approach: set a hard word limit and a deadline and do everything you can to just vomit forth your idea regardless of form, structure, or good sense. But do not for the love of all that is sacred try to edit that mess. You’ll probably toss most of it. That’s what I’m going to do. I don’t have a complete novel by a long shot after blasting out 50 000 words. What I do have is a good beginning. I have characters, interesting relationships, neat situations, and a fun setting. I took the time to just follow my characters around and play with mixing things up. I finger-painted in words essentially until I saw a form in the background… and now that has become my goal. Now I am ready to chip away at the idea until I have a fully realized novel.

So be a little free-form and spastic at first. Then go back and try to find the themes, structures, and such. Then start over and really hammer it out. That’s the idea I got. I’ll let you know how it works out.