03 December 2016

The End of #NaNoWriMo as I know It

Another NaNoWriMo has passed and many of us are somewhere along the spectrum from elation to dejection. For those bloggers who don't know what that means, I'm referring to the National Novel Writing Month competition (hereafter called "NaNo"). However, competition may not exactly be the right word for it. The "experience" is really a competition against yourself and all the excuses writers may have to keep from writing that novel that's been stuck in their heads for a while. It is a just-get-her-done kind of motivating vehicle. I know many writers who finally got a novel written because of NaNo. Not me, of course; I'd write it anyway, NaNo or no NaNo, no?

I had been aware of NaNo for several years but it always was in November, a busy time of the year for me in my day job, so I declined to participate. Then I did, just for the heck of it. I sucked it up and dove in. I had the start of an idea for a sci-fi novel (The Masters' Riddle) and thought NaNo would be a "low-risk" way to push myself to write it. So I did. 

I "won" NaNo by achieving the 50,000-word threshold for calling it a "novel". I reached that milestone before the Thanksgiving week holidays that year, the time when I had expected to make my big final push. By the time the month ended, I had reached 55,000 words but not the end of the story. Then December arrived, end of the semester tasks piled up, and then the end-of-year holidays distracted me from finishing that sci-fi novel.

Last year (2015) I did not participate because I was busy with the novel I had just finished, A Girl Called Wolf. This year (2016), I decided to dive in again. Initially, I expected to start the sci-fi novel where I'd left off and go forward. But I had completed my newest novel, Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, during the summer and still glowing from the thrill I thought to continue in a sequel. That became my NaNo novel: Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons.

I posted my word count every day for the first week or so. Seeing it steadily rising was motivation. Then came the inevitable distractions from the day job. There were days I could not write at all for lack of time or energy, much less post a word count update. I grabbed a few minutes between teaching my classes, some more time in the evenings. I talked up my participation in NaNo in my classes to motivate my students to write more--just for fun! Yes, writing is (can be) fun! But a half-hour here, an hour there was enough to keep me going. Never go 24 hours without writing something, even if only one sentence! As I told a colleague, I am always writing in my head; I just need enough time to download it through my fingers and keyboard. 

Then I had some good weekends with a bunch of keyboard slapping. We're talking 4 hours at a stretch, thinking and writing, not stopping to revise or edit. I was tossing out such crap as I never would have believed--as I never had let myself write and still move on. It was heartbreaking at times. But every word counted! I did not even write and validate after I won. I got lazy.

That's the idea: get a draft done, no matter how bad. Anything can be fixed in revision--after the competition ends. The goal is to complete a manuscript, but like in 2014, I reached the 50,000-word threshold without finishing the story. When I validated at 52,077 words, I got all of my cool winner graphics to paste all over social media to announce my achievement. But I knew when I began that I would win it. I would make myself win. I am known as a verbose writer, after all. When I mention "50,000 words" to my students who balk at writing 1000-word paper, or I tell them my new fantasy novel is 235,000 words (not atypical for the genre), and they seem in such shock, almost as though I had just eaten a live snake in front of them, I have to grin. It is difficult to put the grin away.

Despite the distractions of election vitriol and the day job's hecticness ("hecticity"?) and the holiday obligations, I still managed to win NaNo once more. Now let the revision begin! (See you again next November--if I get another story idea.)

P.S.- Just for fun, here are the opening sentences from Epic Fantasy *With Dragons and Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons. Yes, I intend them to be nearly identical.

Corlan scratched his whiskers and grinned. A dragon clan was approaching. Brushing his wind-swept hair out of his face, he kept his eyes on the clan as he reached for the dragonslinger and prepared the weapon. Eleven of them in a tight formation. It would be a good day for hunting.

Corlan scratched his whiskers and tried to grin. He brushed his long auburn hair out of his face and focused on the quartet of minstrels approaching the dais. With his rusty dragonslinger resting heavily against the wooden throne, he fought a yawn and prepared to hear yet another petty complaint.

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  1. : Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons -- I love the title already!

  2. Do you expect 'Without" to be as long as "With?"

    1. My guess is that "without" will be exactly 3 letters longer than "with".