50,047 words richer

2020 has been, I don’t need to tell anyone, a weird year. There have been days when moving from the bed to the couch has seemed a herculean feat, days when the effort of pouring a bowl of soup from a can has been similar to the work put in to make a five-course gourmet meal. There have also been days when things have gone swimmingly—exercise, cleaning, work, play, all sorts of productivity in a single 24-hour period, with minimal doomscrolling in between. It was in anticipatory hope of a strong of days like that which made me decide to sign up for NaNoWriMo once more.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve previously “won” (written 50k words in the month of November) National Novel Writing Month twice—both times in college when free time didn’t come at a premium. I’d also attempted it on three other occasions, with diminishing returns (~17,000 words in 2014, a mere 3,472 in 2015, and an aborted attempt in 2016 that left me with a big fat goose egg).

I’ve always wanted to redeem myself with another successful go at it, and I was determined in spite of everything to make 2020 my year. Previously I’ve taken a sort of hare approach, writing furiously over the first few days, sometimes churning out ten thousand words in the first night, and then petering out over time but sometimes managing to limp across the finish line. This time, I decided to be the tortoise. I would write my allotted 1667 words every day, but unless I was feeling particularly up for it, that would be enough. And in fact, except for a few outliers at the start and end, that’s pretty much what I did:

I found spare moments during the day: while I drank my morning coffee, during lunch at work, after dinner while everyone else was watching television. And by breaking it down into 1667 word single-day projects rather than a 50000 word 30-day project, I found it easier to reach my goals. Stephen King famously writes 2000 words a day; I think he’s on to something.

I also decided not to be hard on myself and to embrace my “pantser” ways (in NaNoWriMo you are either a meticulously-plotted-and-outlined planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your pantser). I didn’t attempt to write my story in any sort of chronological or thematic order. I simply wrote whatever scene came into my head. And continuity be damned. I’ll fix it later. That is, of course, the point of NaNoWriMo: to get your words out without interference from your second-guessing brain, but it’s always been hard for me to turn my editor’s mind off.

On November 29 I crossed the finish line of 50,000 words, but my mindset had shifted with another important realisation. This isn’t a marathon; it’s only one leg of the triathalon. In the other two instances I’ve completed my word count goal for NaNo, I’ve more or less immediately abandoned the project. One thing about writing so much in such a short time, especially if you’re not Stephen King and it’s not something you do on the reg, is that it does burn you out. Many people who attempt NaNo don’t even consider themselves writers (although what else could you call someone who writes 50,000 words of a novel?); they just do it to see if they can.

Of course, there are plenty of people who take that 50k and run with it, turning that work into finished work, edited work, published work, even bestselling work. I don’t know what the end of the line for my work will be, but I’m determined not to let it languish on my hard drive. I haven’t touched it since last week, letting it settle in my mind and on my Scrivener program. But soon I’ll return to it and create the outline I didn’t bothered with to begin with. I’ll do the research I’ve discovered it needs (you’d think all the true crime podcasts I’ve listened to about cults would have prepared me to write about them, but clearly there’s much more to be done). And I’ll keep writing.

2 thoughts on “50,047 words richer”

  1. Embracing your pantser self is a skill, as I’m growing to learn. Fed up of writing myself into corners or having to rewrite plot holes, I tried plotting for the first time ever, and couldn’t even get started. So yeah, if pantsing means I get to finish writing crappy manuscripts, then I’ll choose that over not starting. Wishing you the best, Lauren!

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