Yes, it’s that time of year again- everyone is either getting ready for NaNoWriMo, or loudly railing against the expectation that they start getting ready for NaNoWriMo.
For those of you who aren’t in the know (and bless your souls for your blissful ignorance), NaNoWriMo is the fun, cool way to abbreviate “National Novel Writing Month”. The idea is that every November, hundreds of thousands of authors give themselves thirty days to write a 50k word novel.
It doesn’t have to be a good novel, or even the final draft of a novel- it just needs to clock in at 50k words, and you’ve succeeded. It’s all about putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, or whatever method it takes for you to puke out a manuscript of appropriate length. All you’ve got to do is hit your word count. It should, in theory, be easy.
That said, I myself have tried to participate in NaNoWriMo five or six or nine or fifteen times over the years, and every single time I have failed miserably. Never once have I made it anywhere in the ballpark of 50k words before quietly giving up on the whole idea.
But this year, for literally no reason other than that 2020 has already been a horrendous pain in the ass and I see no chance of success in attempting to make it easier for myself, I’m considering giving NaMoWriMo the old college try one more time.
Don’t try to stop me; I’m already fully prepared to regret this decision.
I’ve spent the last few days trying to identify exactly why I’ve always failed at this goal in the past, thinking that maybe I can figure out a strategy to miss the mark by a less embarrassing margin this year. I think I’ve come up with three things:
Thing One: I’m Just A Slow Writer
I’ve been writing for literally as long as I can remember- somewhere around twenty-two years now. In all those years of writing, I’ve only ever finished one piece of any significant length: the first draft of a novel (Bright & Beautiful, excerpt here) that totaled about 61k words.
It took me eight years. What can I say? I’m no Stephen King, I can’t just fall asleep on top of my typewriter twice a week and wake up both mornings with a fully-written bestseller.
Trying to write 50k words in 30 days is trying to increase my standard level of productivity by approximately ONE-HUNDRED-BILLION percent. That’s obviously going to be a considerable hurdle.
But I think that if I could stick to a consistent writing schedule, it wouldn’t necessarily be insurmountable…and that brings us to the next thing.
Thing Two: I Can’t Stick To A Consistent Writing Schedule
I went to bed at 9pm last night. The night before that, I went to bed at 1am. The night before that, I think I feel asleep on the couch at 11pm and then got up to go to bed properly at a quarter past who-the-fuck-knows o’clock.
This is the kind of person I am.
I do things whenever I feel like it, and two-thirds of the time, not even then. I resent the implication that I should be responsible for managing my time in any facet of my life. I can’t even manage to remember when I’m going to get PMS, and that happens the same goddamn week of every month. So how am I supposed to manage my own writing schedule?
The only thing that I think can fix this problem is to write the schedule ahead of time, and then refuse to let how I’m feeling in the moment have any bearing on the situation. I just need to decide that come Hell or high water, for 30 days I’m going to sit down every night at 7pm and write the next 1600 words of my story. I can’t try to set a schedule based on when I’m feeling creative or on what else I have going on that day; it has to be beyond my control, or I’ll find some way to drop the ball on it.
But this brings us to the third thing, and that’s the one that always really screws me over.
Thing Three: I Never Know What To Write
Now, I’ve got ideas. Believe you me, I’ve got ideas. Ideas as far as the eye can see; ideas as far as your psyche can imagine. Ideas built on top of ideas built on top of ideas. Ideas for DAYS. An endless, boundless, churning sea rollicking with ideas. Oh ho ho, I have no shortage of ideas.
But what I don’t have is the capacity to make an idea into a cohesive narrative.
I’ll have an idea for a scene, or a character, or an AestheticTM, but I’ll have no idea what to do with it after that point. I know where my story starts, but I don’t know where it goes. Or I know where it’s going to end, but have no clue how to get there. And to this day, in twenty-two years as a writer, I haven’t made any progress in figuring out how to close that gap.
Oh, what’s that you say? I should write an outline?
Go fuck yourself. Do you think I don’t know about outlining? Because I know about outlining- but the thing is, if I knew my story well enough to be able to write an outline, then I’d know the story well enough to be able to write the story.
My brain simply doesn’t work that way, or really in any way when it comes to expanding a theme into a plot.
I guess that’s an argument in favor of stealing- er, borrowing- a plot, right? Remember, we’re just shooting for 50k words. Those can be 50k words used to retread a tale as old as time, right? I sure hope so, because as far as I can tell that’s the only way up this mountain.
So I guess this is what I’ve decided in terms of NaNoWriMo prep this year:
1. Recognize that I can’t do this at my usual comfortable pace;
2. Set a writing schedule and stick to it as though it’s life or death; and
3. Steal a plotline and find other ways to showcase my creative spirit within the work.
…you know, the three things I realize every year shortly before failing yet again. Sigh.
May the odds be ever in my favor.