"I did not win NaNoWriMo this year. I failed to write 50,000 words in 30 days."
Those were the words I wrote on Day 27 of NaNo. And then I accidentally ended up winning. (I’ll explain below, I promise)
This is how the month of November went:
I was on track until the last week of November, and then things started to slide. Rapidly. Downhill into a mucky pile of slop.
Here are the highlights of what I learned this month:
My voice is young
I don’t mean that I need to grow up, or that my writing needs more time to mature. (Though I certainly grow as a writer with every story I write) What I mean here is that my voice itself is better suited to young adult novels than it is to adult novels.
This year I wrote an adult psychological thriller. My previous novels have been young adult novels with some sort of fantasy or paranormal element.
It was a struggle. I couldn’t find the right tone for this story. Every time I would look back over my words, it felt wrong. Like my main character was trying to revert to her high school self. It was my voice as a writer that was the trouble.
This is pretty important. Figuring out what I should be focusing my energy on as a writer is a big deal. I may come back to this story at some point, but for now, adult novels are not my thing.
I should trust my instincts
Before I started really outlining this story, I thought the captive was my main character.
*Backs up, realizing that sentence makes no sense, as you haven’t read the novel*
The story I wrote this month is about the relationship between two women. One who was taken and held captive by a serial killer. The other woman is the psychiatrist that ends up working with her after her rescue.
Initially, I wanted to tell this story from the point of view of the captive. But I realized she had some big secrets that I didn’t want the reader to have access to until late in the story. So I wrote the story from the perspective of the psychiatrist.
This made the secrets work, but only added to the voice issues I already mentioned. The captive is twenty-one. The psychiatrist is twenty-nine. Not a monstrous age difference, but the experience and maturity levels are vastly different.
Around the 40,000 word mark, I realized I would have been far more successful telling this story from the captive’s point of view. There were ways to work around the secrets. Unreliable narrator, anyone?
Families are time-consuming
The week of Thanksgiving was my downfall. Time was stolen. Partly by my job, but more by family invading my house and setting up camp.
It’s very hard to justify sneaking away and writing when there are guests in your house that you only see a few times a year.
I may be able to take off my pants
That sounds incredibly wrong.
I’m okay with it.
I am a pantser. If you are not familiar with that term, it is one of the two main camps of writers. Plotters plan out their novels before they begin to write, sometimes have outlines that are dozens (!) of pages long. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They may have nothing more than a nugget of an idea, or a single character when they begin writing.
I pantsed my previous novels. I had a beginning in mind, and a shadow of what the ending would be. I wrote. (The endings were not what I imagined they would be when I started)
For this novel, I actually plotted. Not dozens of pages. But I had sketches of the big blocks of my novel. I knew how the novel would end. (Surprise- it still changed as I wrote- clearly I will never see the ending coming until I get there)
The sketches I had were very loose. They gave me a hint of what was coming next, but still left me lots of room for my characters to make choices and nudge the story in directions I didn’t see coming.
I am actually excited to jump into my next project and start plotting. GASP!!
It’s okay to walk away from a project
This is a big one. I am a finisher. I commit to something, I start it, I see it through to the end.
Stopping a project after investing 30 days and over 40,000 words makes me a little bit nauseated. But it won’t kill me.
I have limited writing hours. I am committed to making this a career, to being published. That means I have to choose my writing battles. I need to devote my time to projects that are going to move me forward.
Right now, this novel is not moving me forward. I learned from it. I may come back to it later. But right now, it is not the book for me.
(This is #6, I know- but this is the explainy bit) Internal editors are sneaky
At the start of Day 27, I was under 40,000 words. I was around five thousand words below the the taunting target line of NaNo. I knew this book was not “the one.” I had learned important stuff.
I knew my writing time for those last four days was limited, and that there was really no way I was going to get to 50K. This novel was not pouring out of me at anything close to a rapid pace.
So I quit. I decided I was done with NaNo for this year. I wrote the first five sections of this blog post. I was ready to move on.
Then I thought, eh, I’ll keep going with this story for the next few days, just until the end of the month. I’m not really sure how it ends. (yes, I had the ending I plotted, but I didn’t think that was really what the characters were going to do) I was curious. Who kills who in the end? (By the way, the person I thought was dead at the end was indeed dead. But the killer was not who I thought)
I wrote over seven thousand words in two days. Suddenly I was back up at the line. It was no longer lingering tauntingly on a horizon I would never reach.
I thought I had good control of my internal editor. I have learned to let her have her say (I simply switch over to bold and let her spew right there in the manuscript- it still counts as words, and I have any valid points she might make to work with later). But apparently there was still some bit of me that was judging what I wrote, holding me back.
The simple act of saying “I am done with this project, none of these words matter” freed me in a way I didn’t expect.
Now to figure out how to harness that mental freedom while writing a book that I still love and have hopes for…. Off to my next project!