NaNoWriMo: when failure is success

A few years ago, my writer friend, I’ll call her Pav, asked if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. I grew up in the 70s, so I thought she was saying Na-Nu Na-Nu, and if you have to look that up, you’re too young to read my blog.

NaNoWriMo —short for National Novel Writing Month— always falls in November. Because absolutely nothing big happens in November, us creative types have gobs of extra time to commit to the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. (For those who don’t speak word count, that’s about 200 pages of a book.) The “rules”state that a writer starts with a fresh page and a great idea and lets the goal spur along the creative process, with the comfort of knowing lots of other neurotic writers are struggling right along with you.

In late summer, I started work on a new novel. Then my efforts stalled, not for lack of a storyline, but because I wasn’t dedicating time to write. I decided I needed NaNoWriMo to return my focus to the work and develop the habit of scheduling writing time into my day. (Also to fire up my competitive spirit even though I broke the start with a blank page rule.)

I set a daily goal of 1700 words, but in the first week, tried to outdo that pace to account for visitors at Thanksgiving and other distractions. I ended up with two zero-word days (Thursday after the election and Monday before Thanksgiving). I had one 3062-word day, which was exhausting (especially since I also baked two pies the same day). In the end, on my last day, I wrote 3,058 words, ending the challenge 362 words short of the goal.

At first I was disappointed. I failed. (You can imagine the hysterics. “I’m never going to be a published author.”) But I took a step back and viewed my accomplishment from a different angle. I started off NaNoWriMo with a hodgepodge of words and scenes with the ultimate goal of ending the challenge with the first draft of a novel. I achieved that goal. Now I get to cut. And edit. And pare down the times I added a bunch of “that” phrases to boost my word count. Kidding on the last point. Sort of.

Hey, we are motivated by what we are motivated by, and word count goals work for me. The days I found hard to make my 1700, I cut huge passages or left placeholders because the scene hadn’t come to me. I had the ending written when I started this process, but my story went in a different direction. Now I need to fix it.

The challenge over, I feel a little rutterless today, but my novel deserves a night away from me. Goal number one for tomorrow: begin to rewrite the end.

 

whoops, I wrote a second novel

So this funny thing happened as I was pitching my first novel to literary agents… One day over the summer, exhausted yet unfulfilled after sending out a round of queries, all of which take time to research and must be personalized to suit the requirements of the agent being pursued, I thought to myself, “I need to write something more creative than a letter.”

Two days later, the idea for a second novel was born.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I fired off a quick 25,000 words. But then I stalled. I was away for much of August, and while I wrote a little while I was gone, I was not as prolific as I hoped to be.

In September, I began working with the Virtual Writer Workshop, a small online community of writers who embraced me into their fold. Every two weeks, my group shared up to 7,000 words which the other members of the group critiqued. I don’t know about you, but I find my writing improves when I’m critiquing others. It’s easier to see your own weaknesses through the lens of another writer’s good prose. Under the pressure of deadlines and encouragement from my group members, I wrote above and beyond the workshop goals. Through this process, I figured out how I wanted to end the novel, and then I wrote the heart of the story with that ending in mind.

Two weeks ago, I sent the completed first draft of novel #2 out to a small group of beta readers, kind volunteers who will provide feedback on everything from misplaced commas to structural flaws with the plot. One of those beta readers is a writer I met through the workshop. She got “hooked” (her words) on my story, and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks after reading it beginning to end.

In the meantime, waiting for feedback is hard (I’m impatient) so I’ve taken a break from the story to work on other projects. I plan to pick it back up with fresh eyes and new perspective once the critiques are in. My ultimate goal is to have an agent-ready manuscript by the end of January. Ambitious, but doable.

“Has she given up on novel #1?” I can feeling you asking. Never. But I’ve heard from more than one author that often the first book you write isn’t the first published. In my humble opinion, the super secret plot structure of novel #2 is more unique than the love triangle at the core of novel #1. So I’ll shift my focus to the second book, and if an agent nibbles, guess what? I have a second manuscript (novel #1) waiting in the wings. The second book also lends itself to a sequel. Hey, writing novel #3  may well be to pitching novel #2 what writing novel #2 was to pitching novel #1.

What am I waiting for? Maybe I’ll just start writing now.