The Evolving Lessons of NaNoWriMo

It's almost November, and with that comes National Novel Writing Month and the beginning of a new novel. This will be my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, and each year I've participated, I've easily made the 50K mark by about the third week. I've proven to myself that when it comes to all out quantity, I have enough words in me to fill a book. It's not hard at all. What doing this has taught me is that the first 50,000 words are the easiest. It's the last 30,000 that get me every time. 

Each year I've done this, I've learned something new. The first year, I strayed completely from my comfort zone, writing a political pot-boiler. I was so excited about it in mid-September as I plotted it out. Also completely against type for me. I rarely plot anything, but I was afraid to just jump into the NaNoWriMo pool and I thought if I had a roadmap, I'd do better. Well, the book never really caught on for me when I started writing it. It was like giving birth to an anvil, and though I reached 50K, I stopped about 50 words beyond that threshold and didn't look back. 

Last year, I took the completely opposite approach. I didn't even think about what I was going to write until I sat down in front of my computer in the wee hours of November 1st. The result was one of the trippiest most amazing and exhilarating writing experiences I ever had. The plot formed in my head as I was writing it, and it was a pure stream-of-consciousness experience. I could feel myself uncoupling from all of the "what-ifs" and doubt monkeys that usually harangue me when I write, and I created a colorful tale with lusty abandon. The basic seed for Archer's Velvet, a surreal contemporary fantasy, was planted that month, and although the resulting draft from that fevered write-a-thon is very ugly and requires a full rewrite from top to bottom, it still remains one of the first projects I plan on finishing at the beginning of next year. 

So two years and two completely different approaches and two completely different lessons learned. This year, I plan to bridge the two worlds. Take the Goldilocks approach, if you will. I am writing a YA fantasy. I have the basic premise down (coven of witches), the themes I want to touch on (vanity, insecurity, obligation vs following one's heart), the characters (teenage girl and her family of crones), and the basic story all sketched out in my head. I plan on jotting down some key plot elements, but no more than a few (and really only first act stuff), and I plan to start off November 1st with a very light knapsack of ideas in hand. Not too much, not too little. Just right. 

I also have a new goal in mind. Previously, I always used NaNo as a springboard to getting a full novel started. Most of the stuff I write requires a lot more than 50,000 words to finish, and I never intended to finish the book in that month. This time, I want to finish the whole first draft in 30 days if I can. I think it's possible. I don't see this story being of any epic length, and YA novels are typically shorter anyway, I think this is more than possible. 

I want a finished draft, and I want it to be semi-neat (as neat as any first draft written in 30 days can be anyway), and I plan to get there with a rough trail map. And probably lots and lots of coffee. 


  1. Retort! Retort!

    As always, a well-thought-out post. I'm looking forward to seeing how your story evolves over the month and discussing it with you ad nauseum during the slow parts of the day (like there is such a thing).

  2. I am hoping that real life doesn't conspire to keep me from making those first 50k like it has the past two years. November is a cursed month for me. I think that if I can do this successfully, then I will have beaten November's sorry ass. :D

    I'm looking forward to idle chatter about everyone's work.

    Good luck completing the draft in 30 days!


  3. I can't wait to read this one! I'm very excited for you and everyone else involved. ("like giving birth to an anvil"--HA!)Great pics to go along with this post, too. Keep writin' so I can feed my AMD addiction.