Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: A NaNoWriMo Retrospective

So... I just won NaNo for the first time. After four years of trying.

Pre-NaNo, I was happy if a "book" reached 20 pages. I thought a page and a half was a decent length for a chapter. I just did not have enough practice or understanding to really develop a story. Then I discovered the art and joy of writing fanfiction, and I finally started taking literature classes in high school, and the more I learned about writing, the better my writing got, and the longer my stories grew.

Then I heard about this crazy fun thing where writers are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. For a few years I put off doing it because it always seemed like I was right in the middle of a project (or four) around November... Then finally, my chance came.

Year 1 (2011) I had just finished up college and still very much attached to the writer's group I had started, which was always getting fresh faces. A lot of them were doing NaNoWriMo, so I just decided to pull out one of my ideas that I had crafted a premise for but never actually got around to writing. That idea was titled Cipherstalker. My original plan was to just do the challenge and track my word count for the fun of it, without planning ahead of time beyond a vague sense of where the story could possibly go, and just see what happened.
That was the year I discovered I was not a pantser. Or rather, I was not the sort to just write willy-nilly. By Day 3, I simply had to write down the plot that was spinning through my head or I was worried that I would forget it. Also, what I ended up doing was setting a goal of 2K a day, and only writing on my laptop in the evenings during the week. Of course, November 30 came, and I only had about 36K. But I was ready to get on it the next year!

Year 2 (2012), I was deep in the thick of writing Juvenile-level (like ages 8-12) fiction, and SO much more fanfiction, and I concocted this idea that seemed perfect for NaNoWriMo! So even though I thought it up, I purposed not to write it till November...
Then I was chatting with college writing buddies over the summer, and one of them was hitting really bad writer's block and could not decide on a genre. I had just read Arabian Nights, and I was amazed at how the stories in that book just kept going, one leading to another, and another—so I suggested, if he could not decide on a genre, to just write all the genres: write a story about a writer with writer's block who has incredible adventures in each genre, which inspire him to write a book he genuinely enjoys that becomes a bestseller.
This was in August... By September, the idea had festered in my mind long enough that I started planning out how I would write such a story: of course I would begin by introducing the writer and establishing the writer’s block… but then as the writer moves through the genres, I figured the easiest thing for me to do would be to have a similar plot for each genre, and it would just look different because of the different context and theme. And only I would have to know that the stories were basically the same. (Well, not anymore, I guess!) The more I thought about it, the more this sounded like an intriguing idea… and what was more, I could feasibly write multiple “genres” at the same time, because each plot would be the same, so it was essentially “writer’s-block-proof.” I decided to title it A Writer's Tale. Well, one think led to another, and I sat down on September 29 to just start things out and see if I could get enough momentum in an intro… and next thing I know, it’s October 29 and I’m writing the ending and I have no more idea for November (because I had forgotten about my earlier idea by then). So that was a NaNoFAIL that year.

Year 3 (2013) was the year I started this blog! Over the summer, I started the Suggestion Box series, which was well-received and popular among the participants (though precious few there were!) and came to a close just two weeks before November. Now, that first time, what I had done was take the individual lists (which contained a name, a place, a time, and an object, all chosen by the submitter, for which I had no preview) and craft an isolated scene from that. For November, then, I wanted to see if I couldn’t make a big long story using all of the “Suggested Items” and write that. I pooled all of the names, places, times, and objects and divided them into five groups, allotting a minimum of 10K words for each part. It went well for the first part, but as I kept writing, the parts grew shorter, and I found myself arriving at November 29 and having to end the story at just 47K with no idea where or how I was going to add those remaining 3K.

Halfway through, I suddenly remembered the idea I had planned the year before and then forgotten about. Well, I told myself, NaNoWriMo 2014, I know exactly what I am going to be doing!

And so, Year 4 (2014) I finally commenced writing “Clay Heroes”, the story of a young boy who makes figurines out of clay to defend him from bullies, and they come to life and one of them ends up a villain who wants to be his own master, and so the boy must find the confidence from the other heroes to stand up to the villain and defeat him. The story went well enough; it was my first time trying to participate in NaNo and work full-time, and so the first couple weeks I lagged very far behind during the weekdays and then had to write like mad to catch up during the weekdays. As with the Suggestion Box story, though, this ended up much shorter than I anticipated, lasting only about 28K words. To make up the difference, then, I simply resumed an old WIP called “The Last Inkweaver” that I had stopped writing over the summer (and I had actually been quite “blocked” on for a few months before that) and found the inspiration to finish strong by Friday, clocking in at the full 50,000 words by the 28th!

It was hard, most days, but I didn’t give up, even on the days when I could only manage 500 words or so. Giving myself the goal of “1K-A-Day” helped a lot, because usually, if I could reach 1,000 words, that would get me into the middle of a scene where I could just keep writing till I’d made up at least some of my deficit.

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Even if I couldn’t quite manage it that day, I would just remind myself that I always had tomorrow, right up until the very end.

Thanks for sticking with me this month, and stay tuned for more fun writing entertainment from yours truly at Upstream Writer!