I came across mention of NaNoWriMo several times in early October. Paging through various websites about it, I learned that only 10-15% of people succeed with the project. Mind you, I also read lots of other stuff that led me to question those numbers. Most websites wanted to sell you something to help you achieve your goal. Nonetheless, the thought of being one of those 15% was a challenge.
I can be very goal-oriented. The other thing is, I happen to love deadlines. Add to that the fact that I have been sitting on a writing project for almost two years now with little to show. It’s a sequel to my first novel, A Measured Thread. I hadn’t planned to write a sequel, but I was curious about one of the characters, Isobel, and wanted to know what became of her. Funny how that works. The characters become very real over the course of writing a novel, and you don’t want to leave them in limbo.
I hadn’t planned any major trips in November nor was anyone coming to stay. My latest short story had just been sent out to Beta Readers, and I hadn’t come up with an idea for the next one. No excuses. I decided to do NaNoWriMo, and immediately looked around for partners-in-crime amongst my Book Club (all writers), and a few other writer friends. Valerie Biel of Lostlake Press agreed to join me, and she recruited Silvia Acevedo. These are two amazing women, both successfully published and prize-winning authors, and two of the best companions one could ever have in NaNoWriMo.
Val is the queen of organization. She set up a shared calendar where we could “confess” our word count every day. She also organized a Zoom call each Tuesday morning where we chatted about much more than just writing… and laughed a lot. Finally, we had a Facebook Messenger spot for those instantaneous outbursts when we were in the midst of a frustrating piece of composition that drove us to more than expletives!
And I succeeded in writing a novel.
In fairness, I had 15,000 words in the bag when I started, and the final tally was 60,000 words. So, I suppose technically I’m one of those 85-90% who failed. But I really do have a novel — one that I like and think people will enjoy reading, especially those who liked my first book.
Why did NaNoWriMo work? First, I am retired and have (almost) complete control of my time. I refused invitations and made none. Also, I made sure all the outdoor projects were finished, and put aside books I was reading. Next, I stopped reading/watching/listening to all news. My habit each morning over breakfast is to check four or five news websites from Ireland, England, Europe and the USA. It’s amazing how that alters your day; it’s a distraction — one that you cannot shake easily during the day’s writing. And it’s an addiction. So many times during the month, I found my fingers drifting to those Apps on my iPad and had to chastise myself before a relapse. I’ve missed nothing. The world continues to spin.
Another reason NaNoWriMo worked, at least for me, was the piece of advice I read on one of those websites: do not edit. Most of us are inclined to re-read the previous day’s work in preparation for moving the story forward. Unfortunately, we tend to get bogged down in editing which is much easier than creating. But it can suck up a lot of time. Sure I’ll edit the manuscript, but later.
In case you are wondering if I outline stories or just go by the seat of my pants, it’s a bit of both. I had an outline — something written during my last failed attempt last February. I had written the beginning of the story, knew where it should go in the middle (albeit with few details), and I was certain of how I wanted it to end. I even had Chapters laid out — all 27 of them. As it turned out, I followed that outline reasonably closely, but finished with 39 chapters. Along the way, I took a couple of detours, and met a few wonderful characters that literally waltzed onto the page, leaving me excited in anticipation of what they might do the following day. That’s the fun part of writing a novel: when you get in a zone and things just flow and you genuinely are having fun. But have no illusions; there were many days when it felt like digging a trench in muddy clay. I called those my “digging potatoes” days. You get something out of the effort, for sure, but it’s only later you realize you were still making progress.
Having a story bouncing around in your head for 30 days and nights is something of an obsession, but fortunately friends and family are very forgiving.
The last few days of writing were wonderful because I could see the finishing line. Plus, all along I had wanted my characters to be happy, and finally they were going to achieve that. It’s amazing to hold people’s fate in your hands like that. Power, control, kindness, sympathy, understanding. And that’s just the writer!
I’m still a little dazed by having wrapped up the story. My plan now is to leave the manuscript alone for at least a month. No more disciplined days and sleep-interrupted nights. Sometime in January I’ll embark on the next phase: editing. I have no illusions about how long that takes; it will keep me (and my Editor and Beta Readers) busy for several months. Getting a novel into the best shape it can possibly be before finally letting the world see it is a long haul.
Expect to see “it” (no firm title as yet) around November 2023, just in time for Christmas.