Blink, blink. I slowly push open the door to my little green office and gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the world beyond. NANOWRIMO is over. Well, it’s not officially over until the 30th of November, but I had to hurry things along due to family visits at Thanksgiving.
This was my second time “winning” National Novel Writing Month. To win, you simply write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. I can’t claim that I’ve written a novel, since the average mystery novel (genre of my current project) is around 80,000 words, but 50K is an excellent start. No doubt, I’ll end up dumping some scenes that I wrote this past month, but having written them means that I’ve done some in-depth character study that will make my final story that much richer.
In fact, I started this November by attending Write in the Harbor, the first annual Gig Harbor writers’ conference, sponsored by Tacoma Community College. (It was good. You should go next year if you can.) Here’s my magic writing ring, a gift from that conference.
Garth Stein, our keynote speaker and author of Raven Stole the Moon and The Art of Racing in the Rain, told us that an early draft of A Sudden Light, his most recent novel, seemed flat. He decided to write the history of the family around which that novel revolves, and he ended up with a 100,000-word epic—which he threw away! I assume he didn’t actually dispose of the manuscript, but he didn’t use it in A Sudden Light. Stein assured us, though, that the effort was worth it, flavoring the novel that he ultimately published to great acclaim. So there you go—unused scenes are not wasted effort.
What I love about NANO is that it fosters good habits. Scientists disagree on how much daily practice it takes to instill a new habit; lately, we’re hearing that it takes sixty-six days. Ay ay ay! But that annual ritual of shutting myself up in my writing cave and pounding out at least a few thousand words every day is invigorating, and the habit has stuck. Oh, I don’t necessarily achieve 2K words every day, but I do write at least a few pages daily, or revise several, if I’m in that phase of a project. Some writers say that time spent pitching a project to agents doesn’t count—I say it does.
Since I’m writing a mystery novel, this year I experimented with more planning and outlining than I’d ever done before; I’m usually a complete pantser (no outline, write by the seat of your pants). From this post by sci-fi author Rachel Aaron, I got the idea of planning out each scene briefly before writing it. https://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/ Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, I’m not called Late-Blooming Rose for nothing; this technique was new to me, but really helped with my daily productivity.
What’s really challenging about writing a mystery is that you start with the story of the murder, which I wrote in October, and then you go back and write the narrative of how the sleuth solves the mystery. It’s great fun to plant clues, but it’s challenging to give away just enough information about the real killer so that, at the end of the novel, the reader will say, “Aha! Of course it was him/her.” I don’t want the reader to figure it out in chapter ten of thirty, though.
The downside to my November troglodyte existence is—well, about three pounds, just enough to make my favorite pants too tight. Watch this blog for a future post: the NANOWRIMO workout. Let’s start with some desk-chair squats: down, up, down, up, feel the burn…
Happy final writing days to all my fellow NANOs.