I opted out of NaNoWriMo this year, and I don’t regret it. While I continue to be amazed at how energized and productive my writing peers (and co-author, in previous years) seem to get while Nanoing away at a rate of 2k+ words per day, I tend to burn out by the end of week two and my daily writing sessions devolve into 1677 work bouts of near-gibberish. One day in the third week of last November, I wrote exactly 1677 thoughtful, philosophical words about “Stringworld,” positing the earth as a ball of string slowly unraveling into a black hole while the inhabitants try to cut the string, travel up the string, or deny the unraveling as “fake news.” It was probably the most brilliant bit of prose I wrote all month, but it had zilch to do with the book I was supposed to be (co-) writing.
They say there’s no such thing as writers block, and I find that’s true if random nonsense—or scene that isn’t quite shaped enough to be a story—counts as writing. But that’s no way to finish a novel. And then I realized that the only Nano project (of four) I’ve finished was one I’d been working on sans-Nano for years before attempting a month-long sprint. I had dozens of hand-written pages to type up, which isn’t quite the same as pulling words from thin air. I made it to 48k that year and might have won if I hadn’t gotten married the day after Thanksgiving. Another year I wrote 12k words of one project, realized that I had a hankering for a completely different novel, wrote 38k of that project (for a 50k total Nano win!)… and felt so burnt out by both projects that I have never even opened those files since. My next two Nano attempts were with my co-writer, wherein we each strove for 50k. She was awesome and succeeded [right?], and each time I petered out by 40k into a limp, listless pool of despair.
What was wrong with me? Clearly, my internal editor screamed, if I couldn’t sustain a *mere* 1677 word pace or enthusiasm for a project, I wasn’t fit to be a writer. But I’ve finished books before, right? Our co-written novel Resurrectionist of Caligo came together over roughly a year and a half, with breaks. Time to read, to research, to stew, to try out plots and scrap them over and over. To carry characters on my shoulder for months, to introduce new characters and delete them months later. To write and then cut approximately five different kissing scenes (not an exaggeration, I’d be happy to list them). Time for flat secondary characters to slowly round out into believable humans. Time to fall madly in love with ideas and obsess about the paltriest of details. Not a single word of Resurrectionist came into being during a Nano sprint.
Nano is a wonderful tool for many writers trying to generate pure grist, but I suspect if I want to write anything verging on a cohesive novel arc in a single month without tossing the lot into my laptop recycle bin on 1 December, I should rethink my approach and embrace slow-writing. Either that, or hand write the draft first between January and October, then type them up in a month-long frenzy. Putting words on paper/screen is an important step, but it isn’t the only step. I have no problem banging out a lengthy email, book review, or essay in under an hour, but I find creative writing requires more ingredients than merely sitting down and typing. In fact, most of the work must be done beforehand, perhaps for days: reading, absorbing, churning, percolating. Disparate substances merge, wires cross, and with a sudden electric spark, a Frankenstein’s monster of an idea lurches off the bloody slab of the subconscious. But NaNoWriMo is like taking a horsewhip to a corpse – no amount of flogging will send a lifeless story shambling across the page. Best to return to my lab, shut the door, and experiment without the guilt a slipping daily word count inevitably brings.
That said, if five people comment on this blog I’ll publish Stringworld in all its random, tangled glory. Because damn it, I need to feel like last November wasn’t a complete bust.