November is over. My NaNoWriMo total ended up not much improved from my mid-month progress report – 23,295. I just stopped a little over a week ago and didn’t write another word. There are, I think, two major reasons for that – I got stuck on a scene that lacked conflict and wasn’t happy with a previously written scene that fed into the later scene, and I picked up a new hobby which consumed a lot of my time, crochet, by which I am crafting Christmas presents for my family.
The manner in which I was writing throughout November was to have word wars, ten or fifteen minute stints where I was in competition to produce words with other writers. It proved productive, but I’m not sure it was the right thing for me. Yes, I wrote a lot, but this approach produced the problems that ultimately caused me to stop.
Even taking time out before I started writing to work out what was in the coming scene, the pressure of the word wars meant that what I wrote came out in one of two ways – either bogged down in elaborate descriptions and repetition, or hurried and brief. This left me with inconsistent writing, and meant that the interrogation scene, in which my captured protagonist is questioned about the escape from the copper mine and what she was doing in the quarry, didn’t hit all the buttons I needed to hit. The scene came out too blunt. Too “she said, I said”. No nuance, no body language, none of the internal commentary my protagonist has in other scenes.
Thus the set-up of NaNo, or perhaps my more loosely planned approach (but when I have planned in the past I’ve lost steam quickly when writing it) has left me without sufficient time to fit in the thinking I need to do.
I know, I know. Get it down on paper and edit later. Advice I’ve heard numerous times. But every writer is different, right? Well, maybe that’s not how I work best. Maybe I need to get the scenes close enough to right to be able to progress. Later scenes are built on earlier, and a major problem with an earlier scene leaves me with gaps in later scenes. Context is missing, so new elements are harder to weave in naturally. Relationships are harder to build when their foundations are poorly established.
That’s part of the problem with the later scene, the scene I eventually gave up with. Insufficient context. But another part of the problem was that I didn’t know the characters well enough to get their relationship working the way I wanted. It felt too flat, too forced.
I’m not going to drop this story. It’s the story I’ve been trying to tell, in one guise or another, for years. But I’m going to take it more slowly. I’m going to give myself time to think, and I’m going to make sure I know the key characters well before I try to write them. To do this, I’m going to do two things:
- When writing the story, I am not going to pay any attention to wordcounts, either how much I write per day or what the total is. The story isn’t a number of words, it’s a sequence of events driven by conflict. I will measure my progress by that, if I measure progress at all. As long as I do keep trying, keep writing, keep moving forward it doesn’t matter how many words I put down in each session.
- Before I start writing the story again, I will attempt a few short stories written around each of the key characters so I can get a better handle on who they are and how they act and speak.
NaNoWriMo has been successful for me in the past, but now I wonder if I’ve moved past the point where it is useful to me. The speed of progress is certainly beyond me at the moment – when I met the daily goal it took up all my free time for that day and left me exhausted. The pressure of the deadline leaves me writing poorly, which isn’t what I want at all – it goes beyond merely having a bad first draft into having a first draft that’s not even usable. Editing and rewriting a story to bring it into shape is one thing, but the 23k words I did write are almost all completely unsalvagable; a complete rewrite will be needed, and that means that NaNoWriMo was, if anything, a hindrance.
Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t hate NaNoWriMo. A month ago I was one of the most vocal supporters of it. I was a Municipal Liaison from 2008 to 2010. And I still think it can be useful – just not to me any more. Not with this novel.