NaNoWriMo Check-In: Weeks 2-3ish

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From Kathleen: a status report!

I’ve fallen behind!

I was doing pretty well until Day 13, when I didn’t quite make the word count. After that, I compounded things by not adding to my novel for the next 6 days. (Spoiler alert: much of Week 3 has been a wash.)

As of today (Day 19), I’d need to write 2,412 words per day to finish on time. *Le gasp!* It’s doable, but lo, it will be hard.

Something this NaNoWriMo attempt has been good for is helping me notice patterns in my writing style and writing needs that NaNo helps or actively works against. My NaNo daily word counts look like a staircase: I’ll write ahead, not write for a few days—during which I fall behind—and then jump ahead again. I’ve been doing that because I’m primarily a pantser: a writer who doesn’t plot their story out ahead of time. Other terms for that are “compass” writer, “gardener” (vs. “mapper” and “architect,” respectively, which I learned from a Spanish-speaker when comparing writing styles), and “discovery” writer. If I know too much about how things play out, the story loses the magic that makes me want to sit down and write it. When I did NaNo in 2006, pantsing benefitted me: I hadn’t planned things out, so every day was a new discovery on the way to the group’s ultimate destination.

Something else that worked in my favor in 2006 was not planning to try to publish the novel I was writing. I was writing it to see if I could, not to make something worth re-working. Writing with that mindset, if the characters spent a scene quibbling over something inconsequential, that was fine. If I left a scene in brackets to go back and write later because I didn’t want to bother writing it now, that was also fine. I wrote the scenes that interested me, summarized the rest, and moved on, riding the magic of discovery and learning the characters and world along the way. In the 11 years since, I’ve opened the novel document less than five times, and haven’t reread it even once. I’m not interested. It was a throwaway novel, a learning experience, and a challenge I committed to meeting. Just by finishing on time, I got what I wanted to out of that novel: a challenge met by deadline and the knowledge I could do it if I ever needed to. The words and decisions I made ultimately didn’t matter, because a novel I could publish with my name on the front was never the goal.

My goal this NaNoWriMo is different. It’s to finally finish a novel I started years ago. And while I’m still writing to discover, still riding the magic of learning the characters and seeing what happens next, this isn’t a throwaway novel; this is something I care about. I plan to finish the rough draft, reread it, revise it, submit the novel for publication, and hopefully be proud of it when all is said and done.

At this point, I no longer think I’ll finish the novel this month. Parts of it are already going on longer than I anticipated, and I’m not sure at this point how much of that is my NaNo word count requirements making permissible tangential exchanges I’ll want to cut later, and how much is the story stretching out to fill a bigger shape than I’d anticipated it needing. I’m not worrying about that until the draft is finished, but still, it’s something I’m wondering.

I’m writing chronologically again, but this time I’m not using brackets so I can skip to the good parts. Character arcs, not plot, are the focus of this novel, so I need to know the details of every character interaction so they can be built upon in future scenes. That means I have to write the less exciting bits, which is slowing me down.

Something else slowing me down is not having time for the next scenes to percolate in my head before the NaNo deadline necessitates getting more words on the page. My stair-step word counts are that way because I needed time between scenes to figure out what the shape of the next scene was, what the emotional beats would be, what felt right for where the characters were in the story. When I was ready to write the next part, I’d know. When the next part wasn’t clear in my head, I’d feel resistant to writing, and stare at the page in frustrated bafflement as I tried to puzzle out what insight I was missing about my characters and the shape of the story that made putting words down at that moment feel so aimless and wrong.

That’s why I didn’t write the last 503 words of Day 13’s target word count. That’s why the scene I began and have been stuck on since that day still won’t come. My story is telling me I’m missing something, something important, something key, and until I figure out what that is, it’s going to fight me so I don’t veer off track.

NaNo has helped me add 4 sections to my novel that I’d have written much more slowly otherwise. Doing NaNo with my housemate has gotten us both writing a lot more. But NaNo makes me feel rushed and lack confidence in my decisions, makes me write wholly by the seat of my pants in a way that is detrimental to my writing and enjoyment of the story…so I’ve had to be careful this year.

The best way to write is to do what works for you, not what someone says to do because it works for them. What that means for me is this:

If I’m writing a long-term project, I’m not going to write it every day. I need some days off, to refill the well and puzzle out the next scene or character conundrum, and I need other days to write for hours and hours and emerge from the finished scene as if from a baptismal fount. I’m a compass writer: I know the direction I’m going, the destination, and some stops along the way, and the magic lies in discovering and following the best path to get there.

NaNoWriMo’s deadline keeps trying to confiscate my compass, to override my internal guide through the story. Since I won’t let it do that, it behooves me to spend days I’m not adding to the novel working through the snarls in scenes I’m stuck on.

Since I was exhausted this past work week, I didn’t write for 5 days—not even to freewrite and puzzle out the current scene—so I’m about 10,000 words behind.

Can I catch up? Yes. Do I plan to try? Yes. Will I finish NaNoWriMo on time? That, I’ll let you know.

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