With only just over six weeks until National Novel Writing Month begins, I’m starting to see forum topics about it. I’m already doing my One Million Words challenge, and I’m already writing every single day. I’ve even had a day over NaNo’s daily average requirement of 1,667 words last week. So am I going to sign up this year? Am I going to write 50,000 words in 30 days?
The short answer is “I don’t know”. And I don’t need to make a decision just yet. But it is something to consider, and the time to start planning for it is now. Even if I continue my current approach of discovery writing rather than working to an outline, planning is still needed. Planning my strategy, working on worldbuilding and characters even if the plot remains To Be Determined, and ramping up my daily output towards that magic number, 1,667, so that when November starts I’ve already got the discipline in place.
My current goals aren’t NaNo-shaped
NaNoWriMo is about producing 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel. That’s the official line, the “correct” way of doing it. But I’ve put novels aside for the time being. My current goals are on the smaller scale – writing, editing and publishing short stories. Even the longer form piece I’m currently working on isn’t envisioned as a novel, but rather as a serialised piece. Besides, the Kell story is more about exploring the world and the character for myself, getting to a point where I know both well enough to write a novel with them. And I don’t think I’ll be there within a mere six weeks.
The Kell story aside, my focus is on short stories. There are several reasons behind that. Writing short stories means I can get to the editing stage more quickly, and that will give me some practice editing – something I’m short on so far. Writing short stories also gives me the opportunity to explore and realise parts of my world, elements of my characters, and side plots I’ve not had the chance to explore from the Kell story or other longer stuff I work on. Making notes about water supply for a particular city, the exports and imports of such-and-such country, or the developments in religious architecture in a region, can get boring, but writing a short story about a canal cleaner, or a travelling fabric trader, or a high priestess commissioning a new temple after an earthquake damaged the old one – that could be fun. And it makes it more real, more tangible.
Writing short stories also feeds into another of my goals. I want to make some money doing this. Right now I’ve got this opportunity, while I’m working part time, to take the time to work on my writing. My fiancial situation is tight but managable. If I can make money from it, there will be space for building up an emergency fund, buying a few little luxuries, fixing some broken things, upgrading some old things, saving for a wedding, and maybe even visiting my Granny in France for a long weekend.
So diverting from short stories and the Kell serial for a whole month to work on a novel is out of the question. I’m staying on the current path, because that’s where the soonest potential for direct income is, not to mention building a portfolio to support future longer form endeavours – whether that’s traditional publishing or one of many routes available for self-publication.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a non-traditional route for NaNo.
NaNo as a tool, not a goal in itself
When I did NaNoWriMo in the past, it was as a self-contained challenge. The goal was 50,000 words, and success was defined by whether I’d met that mark or not. But it doesn’t have to be that way. NaNoWriMo can be more than an end product, more than a singular wordcount goal. It can be a means to an end – a more productive me.
Of the four times I seriously attempted NaNoWriMo, for three of them I didn’t write a single word on December 1st. On the one that I did keep writing after the end of NaNo, I stopped when I finished the story. In all cases, success was measured by what I had at the end of it, the 50,000 words written (and never looked at again) or the completed novel. But in another sense, each time I failed. I failed to use the momentum of NaNo, the discipline it should have taught me, to keep writing. To Be A Writer.
Now I’m writing every single day. I’ve been writing every day for fifty days. I’ve got nearly thirty thousand words written in that time, but my daily average is still in the hundreds. Slow progress is still progress, but I want to be able to do more. NaNoWriMo could be a stepping stone and a tool in that goal.
I’ve been writing about 500 words a day lately. If I can triple that I won’t be far short of NaNo’s daily target. Over six weeks, that’s an increase to my daily average of just under 200 words a week. And if during November I come to realise that it’s too high for me, that I need to sit at 1,000 words a day or whatever for a while, and can’t meet the NaNo target, well then so be it. But any increase will be good, provided quality doesn’t suffer as a result. If NaNo helps me improve my productivity, then it will have done what I need.
If I do NaNo, then, it won’t be about the 50,000 words, and it won’t be about the novel – I won’t be writing one. It’ll be about the discipline and the productivity.
But that being the case – if I’m not dead set on reaching 50,000, and I’m not even writing a novel, but rather several short stories and maybe a chapter or two on the Kell story – will I really be doing NaNo at all? And being as I am two hours drive from my old region, which meets on a day when I now work, and currently living in an “Elsewhere” region with no local meetups during November, I won’t be getting the in-person social part of it anyway.
Hence the “I don’t know” answer.