NaNoWriMo Postmortem

by wombatony

National Novel Writing Month is insane.

Some might say evil, but that could be taking it a bit too far. Not because a month cannot be evil. It most assuredly can. I’m looking in your direction, August. You know why.

But NaNoWriMo is insane.  Writing 1,667 words a day is insane. That many words in one day is no biggie. In fact, I did that a whopping three times in November. Sometimes I can even back up one 1,667-word day with another day that approaches 1,000 words. Hell, I think I got 3,000 words in a weekend once. But writing that much every single day? That’s insane.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. He is insane. He is one of my favorite authors, but he is insane.

Here are my totals for the month: I wrote just under 25,000 words. The first day I fell thirty words short. Could I have written the extra thirty words? Sure. But I figured those extra thirty wouldn’t matter in the long run, and falling short on day one might give me motivation on day two. I was correct on the first assumption, not on the second.

I participated in a number of Word Wars over the past thirty days. In Word Wars, a whole bunch of people stop chatting for about 15 minutes and just write, write, write. I’m usually good for somewhere between 250-350 words in a 15-minute span of writing. Some people write over 1000 words. How? I have no idea. They say things like “it was dialogue,” or “it was a scene I had already thought about.” Um, okay. I could have planned out every damned word, and I couldn’t regurgitate a thousand in fifteen minutes. My brain needs to stop and breathe from time to time.

And yes, I can hear you math majors already – if I can write 300 words every 15 minutes, all it should take me to write 50,000 words is… carry the one… about forty hours. One work week! What’s the problem, Wombat?

The problem is that I can’t string together too many Word Wars. I’ve improved a bit from last year, when I would spend the ten minutes following each Word War going back over the drivel I had just written and edit it. I became much more comfortable with writing, and more importantly leaving, that drivel this year. My inner editor took the month off, and I’m happy with that. I’ve found that the mantra of “fix it in the re-write” is a good one to write by. Characters are going to change, anyway. I’m going to be writing one scene and think “Oh, crap, I need to allude to this in an earlier scene.” So save it for the second draft.

But even without the inner editor and with Word Wars aplenty, I cannot consistently push past 1,500 words. My sweet spot seems to be about 800 words a day. I know I need to increase that. But for right now, those 800 words are all that fit in my brain at any given time. I think about what I’m going to write the next time I write, and about 800 words later, I’ve finished that scene or description or dialogue. Then I usually need some time to think about the next batch. Occasionally that will happen in the same day. I might write a few hundred words, take an hour or two to drive somewhere or take a shower (a really long shower) or whatever, then I’m ready to go again.

So why don’t I just make sure that I always write two batches of 800 every day?

Because I’m not insane.

Okay, maybe that’s not it. I very well might be insane. But the things that are preventing me from always double-dipping, from always pushing 2,000 words a day, are the same old things as before NaNoWriMo.  Lack of motivation, lack of confidence, real world distractions.

This year one of those real world items was my daughter, the best distraction in the world.  Some of the best writing times, evenings and weekends, are now prime baby time.

My wife also has a very busy November. She works in health insurance, and of course, most people renew their insurance on January 1. So her November is spent driving all over to various open enrollment meetings. Last year, she’d call and say she wouldn’t be home till 8:00 or she was spending the night in beautiful Redding, and I thought, “Cool, I’ll just sit here and write.” This year, that meant I was single parent for the night. Similarly, my school district gets the entire week off for Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote in overdrive that week. This year, we took baby out of daycare for the week and I was full-time daddy.

Mr. Mom finds it hard to get things done. I know, I know, the baby naps. Why don’t I write then? Just like in the first month of her life, when the so-called experts said “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sounds good in theory, but I never know if this particular nap is the 15-minute variety or the 2-hour coma. And then bottles need cleaning and, oh, a shower might be nice. I can also put the baby in her swing or give her some toys on her playmat. And in fact, I did get some writing done at those points, but anyone with a child knows that is living on borrowed time.

But I’m not laying this year’s shortcoming at those tiny feet. There’s still that fear of the unknown. Twenty-five thousand words later, I still haven’t finished the part of the story I had already plotted out in my head, much less figured out how everything would resolve itself. I thought it would take 10,000 to 15,000 words to get to a point in the story that is still probably over 5,000 words away. Sometimes I got disheartened by how little happened in those 800 words. Hell, I was writing a sex scene for five damned days. Every day, I woke up thinking, “Okay, another two or three hundred words to finish off this scene (literally and figuratively during the sex scene), then on the next scene where some cool stuff will happen.” Then the next day, 1,000 words later, I was still on that damned scene. It’s bad when even the guy writing says “Okay, this scene is boring me, when does the good stuff start happening?”

I know, I know. It’ll come out in the re-write. Some of the excessive character introspection and revelations will be spread out over to other points in the novel.  But you cannot edit a blank page.

And I refuse to divulge how many levels of Bubble Witch Saga I passed when I should have been writing.

Now NaNoWriMo is over. The next time I write 800 words in a day, it will be an accomplishment, not a disappointment. And if I can string together a few of those, who knows, I might finally find out what happens after the sex scene.

This is the time to remind myself that I wrote over 20,000 words last month. That is no small feat, NaNoWriMo be damned. If I could add another 20,000 this month, and another batch in January, I’d be close to having a bona fide novel. Last year this transition from writing in November to writing in December was where I failed miserably. This year, I hope to do a little better.

Right after I do some Cyber Monday shopping.

If worse comes to worse, I can always just wait until next NaNoWriMo and try again. Then maybe I can do everything exactly the same way I did this year. I’ll just expect different results.

Because we all know what that is the definition of.

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