My books develop over time.
That’s not to say I don’t practise free-flow writing. In fact, I collect free-flow scenes and chapters, the ones that are written in the moment, raw and uncensored, or where the characters wrestle for the reins, or the plot takes a detour through unmapped terrain.
But in order to win NaNoWriMo, I had to rethink my strategy, come up with something I could draft in 30 days to get my word count quota of 50,000 words. I had to think less and talk fast. For me, that meant sacrifices: less complexity and less originality.
I expected to throw the book away afterwards because I was certain it would be a poorly worded, non-convergent mess—in spite of beginning the marathon with a problem and a solution (the compass). It would be easier to start from scratch than to recover something so hastily written—so I thought. (Flashback to the wee hours of the night: “Only a few hundred words to go. Just write anything, anything at all that comes to mind.”)
I committed to winning NaNoWriMo just ten days before the marathon event began, which left me that long to develop an idea—a rudimentary plan with a setting, characters, and a goal. Ten days was just long enough for me to become attached to the thing. I was emotionally invested in this story now, which was not part of the plan. Time would tell if this was a blessing or a curse.
Long story short (pun not intended), I have a “keepable” novel (even a prophecy!) out of the experience, in addition to my winner’s badge. The book needed a lot of revision, of course, (and substance) but the important messages I took away from this time-constrained form of first-draft writing were:
- NaNo isn’t for every type of novel I write, but it did give me a viable book where otherwise there would not have been one.
- The NaNo novel is less original with lighter themes than my typical work, but my decision to use the Journey Motif (action through changes in geography) in a fantasy setting (fewer restrictions) allowed me to lay words down more quickly and in chronological order. (Except for the ending scene, which came to me a week and a half into the marathon, so naturally I wrote it out.)
- Because I got to know my characters only through the writing of their story, I have more revision and characterization to back-fill than usual.
It’s true that if an author has characters fleshed out long before NaNo, or has lived with them intimately for years, this last point isn’t an issue. I have characters I’ve lived with for years (that’s not to say they don’t surprise me by reinventing themselves or pulling their own free-spirit stunts), but for my NaNo win, I had to scramble to create new people for a 100% fresh novel.
Also, if an author is burning with an idea he or she has been mentally establishing and is itching to write (and it lines up with November), giving it written form could potentially happen very quickly.
I know authors who use the NaNoWriMo challenge and writing community to jump-start new books on a regular basis. I know pantsers who use NaNo to free-flow all the way, and planners who construct their plots, subplots, characters, and timelines months in advance in order to be ready to begin the writing portion on November 1st.
My best writing times tend to be summer or Christmas holidays, when I have more time to write than November. But I’m excited to take part in NaNo again for the simple reason that it’s fun.