Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Tasha Tudor's book, A Time to Keep, has the following quote to introduce the month of November:

No fruit, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, November!
-Thomas Hood

And this year November has meant no blog posts from me as well. Why? In one word, NaNoWriMo.

Okay, maybe that isn't exactly a word. It's an abbreviation of National Novel Writing Month, which is an online program where you sign up to try to write 50,000 words in a month. You get a page with a nifty graph showing you how far you are falling behind the necessary daily word count, and a page where you can keep track of how far your Writing Buddies have gone. You can also post things about your novel, and there are a bunch of discussion forums and events, but I've never actually found time for all that.

Now, the usual advice that is given for people trying NaNoWriMo is not to worry about whether your writing is good or bad, just write, write, write, as fast as you can go. I tried that the first two years I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and it totally did not work for me. I should have known better. One of the few things I learned from the one fiction writing course I took in University (by my own observation of the other students) was that there are some writers who tend to write too copiously and need to cut, and some writers who tend to write too briefly and need to pad. And I am very much the second type of writer. If I just sit down and write without any going back or editing, that just means I am lucky if I have used half as many words as I'm going for before I get to the end of the plot.

My third attempt at NaNoWriMo did get to 50,000 words, but could only very loosely be called a novel. I managed to get a novella out of it afterward, which was less than 20,000 of the 50,000. The other 30,000 included a lot of alternate scenes and background material and things like that, that weren't really part of the actual narrative.

This year, my plan was to come up with an idea with so much plot elements in it that I would have to use 50,000 words to get through it all. I actually reused some ideas from my first two NaNoWriMo attempts, though not any of the exact same incidents or charactors, together with a whole mash of bits and pieces from ideas for novels and short stories that have never quite managed to get written. And it actually all fell in together really well. It was like these were all really meant to be part of one story, I just had not realized it yet.

So I got writing, and found that I was really pretty excited about the story. I liked it enough that I couldn't just leave inconsistencies in it, or not go back and make little changes when I thought of them. So I did. I also found that a good way to keep myself from charging ahead too quickly was to regularly stop and go back to work on earlier parts of the story. When I was down to the last chapter I even went back and read through the whole thing, managing to add a couple hundred words a chapter as I went.

By the end of the month, though, I was starting to get a bit burnt out. Finally on November 29th, having got to the end of my plot and put in every change I had managed to think of so far, I just didn't feel I was up to getting in the 3,000 words that I needed by the following night. So I decided to just write an extra chapter of whatever silly stuff came into my head about my charactors' further adventures in life after the main story. I thought it might be fun, and perhaps I'd even come up with something I could use elsewhere.

I did manage to get the 3,000 words done in a little over two hours. I'm sorry to say that it wasn't all that much fun, and there was absolutely nothing in it that I have any intention of ever looking at again. But it did get me to 50,000 words, so I could finally take a break. I have not done any more writing on the novel since then, but have come up with some more ideas. I found last month that when I was stuck in my writing, the answer to my problem tended to come to me when I was not writing, not when I was at the keyboard stressing over how to come up with another thousand words that day. Breaks are important. Of course, it is also important not to let a break grow by procrastination into simply not getting a thing done. So I'm going to try and get back in there soon, and get my 47,000 words up to the length I think this book really needs to be.

If I don't post again very soon, maybe that will be what I'm up to.