NaNoWriMo on the Slow Track

I posted a motivational blurb on the SCBWI Canada East website today, about slogging it through the last days of November’s novel-writing challenge.

I have never actually made the NaNoWriMo journey, meaning I’ve never done a start-to-finish draft in the month of November. I’ve started books, and I’ve finished books, but never both in November.

But I’m really fond of the whole idea and how it motivates so many people–because who couldn’t use a little more motivation?

My first children’s novel, Walking Backward, began as a NaNoWriMo effort. 

Walking Backward book cover
This book began as a NaNoWriMo draft.

I wrote the standard 1,667 words on November 1st, 2006. And then I foundered. What was this story about, anyway? Who were these people? And what did they mean to me? Instead of continuing to draft aimlessly, I figured out the story and wrote an outline for the novel (which I then put in a drawer for several seasons).

I know the point of NaNoWriMo is to draft even if you don’t have a plot, to figure it out as you go and to do so quickly so that in just 30 days, you have a rough story which you can weigh against that heavy question: Is it worth revising? And if it’s not, who cares? You only spent a month on it.

That process didn’t work for me. I often begin a story blindly, but once I have the feel of it, I need to step back and think. I like to have a map for the journey.

(Yes, writing is like driving in a fog at night, as E.L. Doctorow said, but he’s a careful driver and not exactly on the NaNoWriMo track. For those who want to draft a novel in 30 days, keep in mind that the main reason night-driving works out well in the end is because there’s a road to follow. Off-roading at speed with just the view from your headlights will end in the boggy moors.)

My 2008 writing journal, when I resumed my 2006 NaNoWriMo effort.

Pausing to plot for a few weeks and then forget about the story for a year or so worked out all right in the long run. In spring 2008, I was feeling blue and mortal and scared about some test results. I reread my original 1,667 words and skimmed my forgotten outline for a dead-parent story, and I found a voice and a map and a passion that I didn’t have when I’d started it in 2006.

So I did, in the end, write a novel in one month. Sort of. And after a few months of revision, I sent it off, and it became my first book — and still my favourite. (Thanks to Orca Book Publishers and their wonderful editor, Sarah Harvey, who took a chance on it.)

This November, I didn’t start any new books. But I used the month to finish the first draft of a teen ghost story I’d started this summer. I didn’t follow the NaNoWriMo word count guidelines, but I wrote one scene a day until it was done. (Kind of like I’d do any other month, only with more motivation.)

I know other writers who use November to write a short story, or to draft a poem every week, or to spend a few minutes a day on getting back into writing in some way. You don’t have to do it the NaNoWriMo way to get something out of it.

So even if you haven’t written one word yet this month, it’s not too late to participate. Make today your Day 1. If you keep it up till the end of the month, you’ll have the beginnings of a fabulous journey you may wish to continue through December.

And if you began the month with great expectations but you quit after Day 1 or Day 10, don’t despair. You might pick your story up again next year, when it means something more to you, and then nothing will stop you from writing it.

Good luck.

4 Comments on “NaNoWriMo on the Slow Track

  1. You are right! NaNoWriMo is motivating which ever way you want to roll it. I took this year to revise a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year and hadn’t looked at since. I like the idea of beginning blindly, but then stepping back to build an outline. That might work for me. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Thanks, Julie. Revisions always take so much longer than drafts, don’t they? You write a book so many times — and bit by bit, it gets good. You just have to have faith in the process and keep working. Cheers.

  3. I admire your commitment to the process. The thought of writing a novel is frankly overwhelming.

    On another note, I wanted to tell you ages ago how much I enjoyed your story “On Sulphur Mountain” in The New Quarterly a while back.

  4. Hey, thanks, Susanne. That story was a long time in the making, too. It’s crazy how many times you can revise — and I hear poets are the funniest. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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