Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update #1: The Annoyance of Writerly Self-Discovery

So. It's day 12 of NaNoWriMo and I am questioning so many things.

This has been an interesting NaNo for me. Actually, each NaNo is interesting - each November I discover something new about my writing style.

2012 was where I discovered that I was actually capable of writing a novel - and finishing it. I could write crap during November then come back in January and realize that it wasn't ENTIRELY crap.

2013 was the year I found pantsing wasn't for me. It was awkward, annoying, and when it came time to "promise to revise," I didn't. I still haven't opened that Word document since November 30th, 2013. I probably should, one of these days - I'm sure there are some good things.

And then this month, NaNo 2014, I'm realizing that I am even less of a pantser than I thought - I'm not even a plantster (50:50). I'm realizing that characters are my thing. Storyboarding is necessary. I need sticky notes, I need the ability to shift scenes around, and I need to have a notebook with me at all times to scribble in about characters. Again, Characters are entirely my thing.

Another thing I'm discovering is that the NaNo thing isn't working as well as it used to - meaning, I'm not caring about word counts and churning out words anymore. I've done it, that's great - I've proved to myself that it's possible. But now... I'm not sure it's quite my style.

Writing is supposed to be fun, right? I want to sit down and write a paragraph, and be happy with where it's going - not just because I need filler until I reach the next scene I have in my head. I've been afraid of fully accepting myself as a planner, because discovery writing sounds like such fun. "No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader," right? (Robert Frost said that, by the way.) And during NaNo 2012, my characters just went off and did their own thing and I was so amazed at how they actually did that. So I didn't want to lose that fun part, that part where you just sit back and watch how things go.

But now I've been thinking. Exciting writing epiphanies and adventures happen to planners too - they just happen on a smaller scale. Planners know where the story is going, and perhaps even each step of the way, but the souls of the characters may reveal themselves as different from what they expected. Planners are still flexible. Planners have paths and goals, but are willing to choose new paths and new goals if that is what the story asks of them. It's not as dramatic or grandiose or spontaneously exciting as it may be for pantsers, but that aspect is definitely there for any writer.

This NaNo has helped - is helping - me see that. It's helping me realize that I need a lot more planning time before I start a novel (even though I planned for all of October, and thought it was enough. It wasn't). I always tell my mother that I can't just quickly write an essay for homework. I need at least one night to mull it over in my mind, roll sentences through my head before I fall asleep, imagine the progression of supporting paragraphs as I lay in bed in the morning. It would make sense, wouldn't it, that I need this kind of idea-steeping time for noveling, too, right? And yet somehow, I haven't realized it until now.

The issue with this, of course, is that we are currently smack dab in the middle of NaNo. I've got no time for plotting, since I have to keep chugging along at my 1,667 words daily. But now I'm finding it hard to write those 1,667 words, since my plot has sort of withered. I've done it before, of course - the past two years I've written crap and caught up and had fun and my WC bar changed from blue to winners purple. But this year feels different. I don't want to do what I've done before - I want to do better. And for me, better means more planning. It means slowing down. It means editing as you go (Wrimos everywhere give a collective gasp). Not Superediting, just a bit more editing than the strict NaNo schedule allows for. I want something at the end that I am happy with, something that I can see a future for (with some work, of course). The last NaNovels didn't have that.

At first, when I realized I was a planner - and on top of that, a planner who didn't think NaNo was entirely useful anymore - I was nervous. Was I really a planner? How did NaNo not work for me? Marissa Meyer, Veronica Roth, Erin Morgenstern - they're all strong NaNo proponents. And I agree with them - I've read their pep talks and tweets and blog posts. (I've read them so many times.) But then again...

I found out Maggie Stiefvater (a.k.a. Writing Queen) doesn't do NaNoWriMo. It doesn't work for her writing style. That made me feel loads better. LOADS. And then there's this quote about James Joyce:
"I've been working hard on [Ulysses] all day," said Joyce.

"Does that mean that you have written a great deal?" I said.

"Two sentences," said Joyce.

I looked sideways but Joyce was not smiling. I thought of [French novelist Gustave] Flaubert. "You've been seeking the mot juste?" I said.

"No," said Joyce. "I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence."
If JAMES JOYCE edits as he goes, I sure as heck can too.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm abandoning NaNo forever. I love NaNo and it's a ton of fun, and I'm going to keep writing this month. It's just - I'm growing as a writer. Adapting. Stretching. Learning. And I may have just "grown out" of NaNoWriMo a tiny bit - not entirely, just a bit. Over the last year, I've found a community of writers online who encourage me (and I them, I suppose), and this has helped me finally focus on making writing a priority. They've helped me in the way that NaNo helped me the last two Novembers - made me sit down and write. Since that was the main usefulness of NaNo to me - do I need it anymore, now that I have a year round virtual writers' group?

I asked myself - do I really want writing as a potential career path or not? I think I do. And so I will treat it as one.

Ultimately, NaNo is fantastic. As I said, I will continue on with it, but probably not with the same zeal as I have in the past years. Instead of focusing my writing into one giant waterfall in November, I'm going to try to spread it out in little rivulets throughout the year. The idea is quality writing with a consistent schedule to make up for the gigantic outpouring I usually have in November.

In 2012, the challenge was to write the 50,000 words. I did it.
In 2013, the challenge was to pants the 50,000 words. I did that too.
Now, in 2014, the challenge is to actually write something, no matter how long, that I actually want to edit.

Let's see where this leads.

What's your writing style - pantser or planner (or plantser)? Are you doing NaNo this year? And have you had any momentous self-discoveries lately? :-)


P.S. On a related topic, I'm going to my first NaNo write-in tonight! How excitement! Which means that I have to do some planning so that I actually know what the heck I'll be writing about.


  1. This was my first NaNo. I waited until two weeks before to even decide if I was going to do it. I am NOT a pantser but since I didn't have much time to plan, I became a planster by default. I've already made my 50k word count and I'm really excited about it because I have struggled for some time with actually finishing a writing project. I get bored, have a new idea for something else, and then I move on to something else. Having this 50k word goal forced me to actually finish something. I haven't gone back over it yet but I'm 99.9% sure that it is crap. BUT I already know what needs to be fixed and if I do it the right way I do think it will be a good story. That being said, I enjoyed the challenge of NaNo this year and proving to myself that I can do this but I don't think I will do it again next year. Waiting until the beginning of November to start writing on my story once I had the idea and characters somewhat planned out really bothered me. Not being able to go back and edit when I felt like it (was trying to follow NaNo suggested guidelines) REALLY frustrated me. (I'm a natural editor.). I felt like my writing process had been stifled instead of it flourishing. And I didn't realize that until reading your post! Great post. Good luck with the rest of NaNo!

    1. YAY YOU REACHED 50K! Good for you! Isn't it awesome, just feeling that it is POSSIBLE? I love it.

      Now that you know you can do it, you can check that off your list and try a new writing style. That's what I'm going to do. I'm glad you liked my post!

      Good luck with editing!

  2. I'm doing NaNo this year for the first time ever, and completely pantsing it. The only thing I had going in was a starting point for my story, hehe. It's working so far though, I think for the following reasons:

    a) I don't have any hopes for it at all - I know it will be awful, I just want to prove to myself that I can make the word count.
    b) I'm going for an Alice in Wonderland type thing - that means that nothing that happens needs to make sense on any level really, so any idea that I come up with works within the story
    c) I am actually enjoying writing it. I haven't written fiction for YEARS and it's been really nice to get back to doing it, I forgot that I had missed it.

    But I always figured with NaNo that it really isn't for everyone, and it isn't for every type of book. I've always been fascinated by how authors write, and I've never really come across two authors who seem to write in the same way. It's such an intensely personal thing, and I think that you should just stick to what works for you, as long as you are actually writing! The important thing isn't to reach some goal that someone else has decided, the important thing is to meet your own personal goal, whether that's just proving to yourself that you can do it, or to actually make something that you are proud of/could potentially get published.

    1. I think everyone should TRY NaNo, just to prove to themselves that it is possible. But it's true, writing style is so personal, so it's important to try a bunch of things out to find what works best for you.

      Good luck with NaNo! WOO WOO


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