Over the past 7+ years, I’ve NaNo’d 6 times. Some times I’ve been successful, some times I haven’t, and one time I failed so spectacularly that I’m almost proud.
Below are some observations I’ve made & lessons I’ve learned:
* * *
Year 1 – 2010
Project Type: New Novel
Project Info: A werewolf-type story
Final Word Count: 52,000
For this one, I started a brand new story on November 1. I think I did a rough outline beforehand, but mostly just character sketches and a very loose plot. After 2 weeks I hit the wall hard, but a few days later I managed to push past it. I ended up reaching a conclusion around the 40,000 mark and thought I was going to fail this task, but then I thought of a way to make the story longer and managed to get over 50,000 words. I also wrote a really cool back-story scene that I’m super happy with.
This was my first year, and I consider it my most successful so far. I was working 2 jobs and rehearsing 2 plays, so I have no idea how I managed to do it. (Actually, that’s a lie – I’m editing that story now and there’s a lot of nonsensical rambling that needs to be cut down – but there’s also some great stuff that I got from the aforementioned rambling. Swings and roundabouts, my friends.)
Aside from being super determined to rock my first year, I learned how to push myself and that I could actually finish a story. It taught me that I could write a full-length novel in less than 3 years. As someone who had trouble focusing on one single project, it was a great confidence boost.
* * *
Year 2 – 2011
Project Type: New Novel
Project Info: Sequel to the previous year’s story
Final Word Count: 50,590
I did a bit more prep-work for this one, but not much. As I’d already established the characters, it was easier to imagine the world, but I actually had more trouble writing this one. I think I was hoping to establish the same success as the year before, but the spark wasn’t as bright. I knew that the last year’s story needed work, but hadn’t taken the time to work on it. Also, I was worried about repeating myself, so I was more hesitant to ramble.
But I managed to finish it, even though it was a bit more of a slog. It taught me that just because you wrote the first novel, it doesn’t necessarily make the second one any easier.
* * *
Year 3 – 2012
Project Type: Short Stories
Project Info: An attempt to finish/write 5 short stories/novellas
Final Word Count: 24,356
This year I didn’t have any novels on the go, but I had a bunch of short stories that I’d started working on and wanted to finish. My initial hope was to make each story into a novella of approximately 10,000, which worked for the first two stories, but fell apart after that.
I’m honestly not sure why it didn’t work. Maybe it was because trying to work on five different projects within such a short time frame was too much for my brain. I like to focus on one or two big things at a time, so trying to focus on five small things might have pulled my brain too many different directions. Or maybe I should have done more prep-work. Or maybe it would have been better if I’d allowed myself to work on all of them simultaneously instead of trying to go one at a time.
Or maybe I should have taken the month off instead of pushing myself.
* * *
Year 4 – 2015
Project Type: Reworking a past idea
Project Info: A ghost story
Final Word Count: 568
For this one, I was trying to work on a story that I’d spent a lot of time thinking about. The problem was that I didn’t know when I should set the story. Should the characters be in high school? Junior high? College? Without that detail I couldn’t actually write the story. It stopped me in my tracks.
So, yes, I failed horribly this year. Even though I had a plot, I couldn’t get the opening scene right, so I wasn’t able to continue past 568 words. I kept thinking that if I didn’t figure out how to start, then anything I wrote after this would get trashed if I changed my mind.
But the good news is that I picked this idea up in April and I was able to find a setting I liked. Sometimes you have a great idea, but it needs some time to percolate. Never throw anything out: file it away until you finally figure out what to do with it.
* * *
Year 5 – 2017
Project Type: Finishing Current Work-In-Progress + New Novel
Project Info: Sequel(?) to Six-Elemental + Another story in that universe
Current Word Count: 26,555
I had already started writing my novel and didn’t want to put it aside for an entire month, so I did a word count (~27,000 words), and then recorded anything I wrote past that. My ideal plan was to write another 25,000 words by November 15, and then to move on to the next novel. I ended up writing ~26,000 words by November 16, so woohoo!
Although I’m currently behind on my word count, I’ve been writing every single day. There were times where I wasn’t sure where the story was going, but by pushing myself and thinking about the novel every day, my brain managed to work through it. I wanted to know what was next, and my brain wanted to answer that question.
I’ve been writing slower this time, because I’m considering my words more carefully (I’m very aware that I’m going to have to edit all of this soon). Despite this, I’m not too far behind on my word count.
I succeeded in finishing my novel, so even if I don’t reach 50,000 words by November 30, I’m counting this year as a win.