Reflections from NaNoWriMo


So NaNoWriMo is over. And I did not win.

I’ll once again give a little bit of a refresher for people who don’t know what I’m talking about. NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, which takes place in November each year. The idea is to commit to writing a complete 50,000 word novel, which comes out to 1,667 words per day. I wrote a blog post about how I was doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in years. I was scared but determined. After all, if you can’t produce, you can’t call yourself a writer.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I’m still shellshocked from the election and worried about my country. I’ve barely written anything because writing fiction strikes me as insensitive to what’s going on around me, so I sit by myself or with my boyfriend and mope instead, which is even MORE insensitive. Good job, Alyssa.

But one day, I wake up, and I know I have to keep moving. I’m already behind by about 10,000 words, but I’ve always had a lot of blind faith in myself, so I don’t let it stop me.

The next week and a half are better. I’m writing a lot more, but I’m still behind, so I push harder. And harder. I say no when friends ask me to hang out. I skip exercise. My room gradually gets messier. My word count goes up a lot. I’m convinced I’m doing this right.

And then something happens. I start to write terrible things.

Not “terrible” in the sense that awful things are happening to my characters (though that’s also true, heh). “Terrible” in the sense that what I’m writing is just plain bad. I was already putting my story down with a degree of abandon, but up until that moment, I still knew where the story was going. But I was losing that direction. Suddenly the characters were doing things that didn’t make sense. The plot was taking pointless twists, which is something I hate as a reader because it’s so obvious that the author is just making something happen for the sake of it. I knew I could do so much better, but part of the NaNoWriMo tradition is that you’re not supposed to edit as you go. But I wasn’t even editing — I was writing things down knowing I could do better if I just thought about the story for even a few minutes longer.

It was becoming clear to me that I wouldn’t get to 50K, though, and I wasn’t all that bothered by it. The last draft I wrote was almost three times that size, so there was never a question of whether or not I could do it. Instead, I felt concerned for my characters. Like any writer with any of their books, I’m obsessed with the story. I want it to be good so that maybe I can make it great. And even if I had a 50K word draft to work from, what if I ended up scrapping most of it the way I did with the first draft of The Lost Royals? That was painful, and I didn’t want it to happen again. This time, I wanted salvageable material. I wanted good to make into great.

And so I took a breath, and I returned to writing just over 1,000 words a day. Already, I feel a lot better with what I’m seeing on the page. And I ended up with just over 25,000 words that — dare I say it? — I’m actually sort of okay with. This is a big step up from post-TLR Alyssa, who was very emo about how awful her draft was.

Even though winning NaNoWriMo will no longer be a goal of mine, I’m fully planning on participating next year. I loved being part of online word sprints and reading author pep talks and seeing people writing their hearts out. It’s inspiring. And in the meantime, I’ll be finishing my current draft. Writing this book has been a huge learning experience so far, and I’ll be talking about that in my next post. And I think I speak for many people when I say: good riddance, November.