Today – 1 December – is an auspicious day.
It’s when hundreds of thousands of novelists around the world blink their eyes against the sky’s blue brilliance after they stagger outside for the first time in a month, as they have done for the past 16 years.
NaNoWriMo is over.
At midnight last night computer keyboards fell silent, fingers were stretched against four weeks of claw-handed typing, and sleep rejoined the agenda as a regular occurrence.
My second NaNoWriMo ended about 7.45pm yesterday when, after verifying my word count at 50,424, I joyfully waved my printed winner’s certificate at my husband and son, earning a supportive “Well done!” from the Superhubby and a confused, “What’s that? Is that mine?” from the youngster, but it was past his bedtime and I was about to crack open the wine to celebrate, so he was forgiven.
As my NaNoWriMo stats show, after a slow start consistency paid off.
Last year I wrote 35,000 words, and this year was ecstatic to have reached the 50,000-word goal after the first week and a half was a near-write-off (pun intended). On day 11 I had penned 3074 words. The target at that point – based on an average of 1,667 words per day – was 18,337. I had panicked. I had doubted my story, characters, plot, genre and concept. I had done the lengthy tutorial attached to the Scrivener trial offer. I had had little sleep. I had drunk far too much coffee. I had considered changing to a different story, then throwing it in altogether.
But I didn’t. I stuck with it. I did a few word sprints, I read the NaNo Pep Talks, I reverted to writing exercises when I hit a wall.
Veronica Roth’s (Divergent) advice in her pep talk was to let go of your process, and to let go of stressing about your process – and just to let go of it all – was freeing. I was trying to stick to a plan, falling into a pattern of ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened’. So I wrote some scenes to be placed later in the text, and page after page of what was effectively straight dialogue, which I know won’t make a final draft, but did help me get into my characters’ heads.
And I let go. I let go of that urge to edit and re-edit what I’d already written; I let go of my original concept, and let the characters meander and interact. I let go of the compulsion to write from start to finish.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice (which I can no longer find!) was to interview my characters. This was a no-brainer for a former journo – and I interviewed my protagonist, my catalyst character, and a third character who was not yet in the book, but has ended up playing a pivotal role. It forced me to examine motivations, reasons, and actions: why did you leave? Why did you come back? What’s stopping you from leaving this time? Who are you actually sneaking around with (no kidding – up until this point I hadn’t decided who the secret, forbidden love interest was going to be).
I also wrote a description of eating a piece of hedgehog slice (at a cafe, while eating a piece of hedgehog slice), and one about a small art piece on my desk, tying both into the story. Again, they may not make the final version, but they kept me writing and sparked other ideas, and other layers to the story and characters. It’s not great literature, but it’s better than any story I haven’t written.
But the most positive, telling aspect for me was not that I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days – including 45,000-plus in 19 days – or that I’m in a pattern of writing every day, have found my rhythm: it’s that I’m talking about the final version.
After 30 days the story is a long way from finished, but I’m attached to my characters, I’m engaged with my story, I’m in love with my protagonist’s love interest.
I want to see how the story will end, and that’s all up to me.
And I can’t wait to keep going.