A writer friend told me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) ten years ago. I’ve been obsessed with the event ever since. As the NaNoWriMo community gears up for another November of marathon writing, I am excited to partake, but not in the typical fashion.
1. I need to finish books
Some years, I need to be a NaNo Rebel.
The main reason I don’t choose to write a fresh novel during NaNoWriMo every year is because I need to finish books, not just continue to start new ones (Finishing a Book is a Skill). Although the NaNoWriMo organization encourages writers to finish, edit, and publish their books after taking part in the 30-day marathon, it’s the simple math of NaNoWriMo + 11 months = new release in time for the next NaNo that doesn’t work for me, as much as I would like it to be that way.
2. Some books can’t be drafted in 30 days, while others can
Another reason is that books like Beyond the Precipice and Beyond the Music just can’t be written in 30 days. Such books are too complicated, too in-depth for a 30-day stint. They need to simmer and evolve over time. However, these books can be processed in 30 days, by which I mean go through the story from beginning to end, connect all the scenes that aren’t yet stitched together, revise as needed, add foreshadow, more characterization, clarification, expansion, etc.
NaNoWriMo month is a fun time to work on an existing book, since there is a whole community of writers one can be part of, either through local, in-person events or through the online forum (to which you have access when you create an account). I won’t qualify for a badge if I work on a pre-existing book, but the important thing is it brings my book closer to the finish line. (A NaNoWriMo win is defined as “a 50,000 word novel–from scratch–in one month,” written between November 1st and 30th.)
For example, in 2011 with Beyond the Precipice, I processed 98,000+ words in eight days over two marathons—five days of writing for 17-18 hours per day in early October and an additional three days over the Remembrance Day long weekend in November. The existing material (close to half) was fully revised while the other half was newly written. I wrote the second climax and ending, finishing the book on November 13th. The combination of these two marathons was a NaNoWriMo 50K I couldn’t claim since my November word count was just over 20,000 words and the novel was pre-existing, but I did finally manage to finish the first draft of the book. I could never have written that much material for Beyond the Precipice in only 30 days when the novel was new. It took years to develop, research, and cook the ideas and situations.
I need a win!
I had to win NaNoWriMo officially and get my badge at some point!
I learned that I can write some novels in 30 days. The initial draft of Druyan, a fantasy adventure, was written between November 1st and 30th during NaNoWriMo 2014 and became my first official win. Of the 325,142 NaNoWriMo participants and 58,917 winners, I was one of the 18% who won. In 2015, the number of participants increased to 431,626, so it is safe to say that this year, in 2016, the participant rate will reach at least half a million.
3. Fiction is slow; time demand is huge
A third reason why I don’t write a fresh novel for NaNoWriMo every year is that I can’t transcribe images into language fast enough, so my hourly word counts for fiction are low. Although I know someone who can write the daily quota of 1,667 words (the daily average to achieve 50,000 words by the 30th day) in roughly an hour, my fiction quota runs in the range of 500 words per hour. That means I have to allot about four hours to NaNo per day, which means writing into the wee hours on weekdays and for 12 hours on Sundays (my only day off in the week in 2014).
I have to be in a position where my kids don’t need me for anything critical (in 2014 I was a single parent with two teenagers living at home), no events are happening during the month, and housework can be abandoned for the duration of NaNoWriMo.
You can see on this graph of my writing statistics (compared to the smooth graph below of all Edmonton writers) exactly where the ends of the workweek were (where I began to lag) and where the Sundays were (where I frantically caught up and worked ahead in order to keep up each week).
4. I’m a full-time author, but I don’t have full time
A final reason why I may have to skip a year of NaNo or opt not to start a new book is that writing is a full-time career—more than full-time job—and I’m trying to shoehorn it around another career I’m committed to, along with its associated PD (and family, and significant life-changing events). That means my life does not ebb and flow with the tide of writing the first draft in November during NaNo, spending the year rewriting, editing, and producing the novel, and by the following November, being ready to repeat the process. I know an author who can do this, but this author writes and publishes full time and makes a living from her books.
I do join the community of NaNoWriMo every year in spirit if not as a participant.
This year, I have three books in progress to either finish or prepare for publication: Beyond the Music, Druyan, and Ironclad. But I won’t be able to stand it if I don’t sign up for NaNoWriMo.
Thus, I will join NaNo 2016 and sweat with half a million other writers, but my project will be to continue writing Beyond the Music. In 2017, however, I hope to earn another NaNoWriMo badge!
What is NaNoWriMo on Bookmasters
Finishing a Book is a Skill by Millie Ho on A Writer’s Path (Ryan Lanz), reblogged here [link to my post].
NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program
NaNoWriMo for Educators: classroom kits, noveling lesson plans, and more