Starting Somewhere

08 October 2012

“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
alice in wonderland

I need only mention the words "National Novel Writing Month," and a flurry of opinions swirl around me in a blinding hurricane. Some authors swear their lives on it, saying this thirty-day span of mad scribbling is the only true incentive to get writing. Others relentlessly oppose the quantity over quality mindset. And as is often the case, the amount of varying viewpoints can be so overwelming that they leave me claiming no more than hesitant middle ground.

For those of you not in the know, November is considered National Novel Writing Month (affectionately dubbed NaNoWriMo), and for thirty days, writers all over the globe race the clock and down copious cups of tea in order to type out 50,000 words before December 1st. The idea is rather frightening and exhilerating at once, and few make it to December with the same amount of hair with which they began, but the prospect of seeing the progress bar on the Nano website change from blue to purple is motivation enough.

In 2010, I tried to complete NaNoWriMo with my in-process draft of Violets Are Blue. It was my first year to accept the challenge, and as a naive young writer, I wasn't quite aware of the willpower it takes to push through to the end. Nor was I accustomed with the massive amount of time it can take to get caught up when you're behind.

The results weren't attractive. I'll simply state that I didn't win and spare you the gory details.

In 2011, I began a new novel (read more about it here). There is a very good reason you haven't heard it mentioned here since. Though my Nano 2011 novel had one of the most thorough plots I've ever written and was quite excessively outlined, a combination of procrastination at the start and anxiety towards the end forced me to value quantity over quality. The draft has not been touched since then, and I still cringe at its current state. Were I to complete the book and apply the iron fist of editing to my Word document, I could probably produce a reasonable story. But at the moment, it remains hidden among my other half-finished works.

When November 30th came and went last year, I swore I would never take part in NaNoWriMo again. It was too stressful, and the pressure did not bring out my best writing skills. On top of that, I had a rather hefty schedule for both school and dance last year, and Nano on top of all that was more than I could handle. It was doable — I finished successfully, after all — but not the best choice.

Having tried this mad endeavor with both a partially-started book and a new idea, I feel that I have a much more rounded opinion of the program in general. I've debated with myself for months over whether or not I should cast my lot with my fellow novelists this November, and to the disgust of my common sense, the writer in me simply cannot refuse the chance.

I'll be competing with Rifles in the South Field, which has advantages over both of my previous Nano novels. I've gotten past the troubling Chapter I, and I know where I'm going, but I haven't written a great deal as of yet. There is still plenty of room for all those plot bunnies that November loves to throw at me, and December is time enough to edit out the unneeded ones.

For me, the key to succeeding with Nano is perserverance. I have a terrible problem with procrastination at times (especially when my writing won't flow like I want it to), and procrastination is what made Nano 2010 horrendous and Nano 2011 almost unbearable. I'm going to write as regularly as I can, but I'm not throwing quality out the window. In 2010, I stopped NaNoWriMo because I saw the quality of Violets Are Blue going downhill, and now I have a published book to show for it. I won Nano with my 2011 novel, and it may never see the light of day. I've learned through experience that I take more pride in writing one hundred good words than one thousand so-so ones.

So when November rolls around (only 23 more days!), I'm going to treat it like any other writing project. I'll continue with Rifles, discipline myself to write regularly, and not stress over the progress bar. I realized last year that November can become a miserable month if I only focus on word-count. This year I plan to make it both productive and enjoyable.

Do you plan on doing NaNoWriMo this year?

7 epistles:

  1. I am planning on participating, but I am not starting a brand-new novel. I am using 'Cry of Hope' this November, for it is in bad need of an incentive to write until it is finished. I have never participated, however, so I really don't know exactly what to expect besides what I have heard from previous NaNoers. :)

    1. I am in the same boat as you, Emily! I plan to use "The Crown of Life" for November writing challenge... still a little unsure as to joining NaNo itself or doing a private challenge for myself... one way or the other, I definitely I am going to challenge myself to write heaps during Nov!

  2. My first two years of NaNo, I worked on the same book (Hwinny's Story). Yes, it took two NaNo's to complete, so I think it got both quantity and quality. ;-) Of course, I was so near the end and didn't have the full 50k the second time, so I did end up putting in some fillers...
    Last year, I did Naji's Story, and like yours, if I do a major editing overhaul it could be good. I also only had half the month to work on it, because we were visiting relatives the whole last week and a half of the month, so I don't think that helped.
    What I think caused the greatest difference between the two outcomes, for me, was not a matter of focusing on quantity over quality (though I do still partially blame time), but how long I had been thinking the story out. I do not plan out my books like other people may, making outlines and such, but I do often think out great details about my characters and certain scenes and plot points...even the plot entire. I did more of that with Hwinny's Story- I had years building all that up, in fact. Naji's Story had some pre-contemplated points, but very few. I am very glad that the book I am doing this year (So She Dances) is another that I have been thinking out many of the points for a long time beforehand. Plus, there are plenty of sources of inspiration for this one.

    I'm under the same name at NaNo as I use here (Rhoswen Faerie Wrose), if you want to look up my novel info...and cover...and if you'd like to buddy me. ;-)

  3. I'm doing it! I am, however, just doing the young writer's version, so my word-count goal is only 25,000. I do intend to eventually do the regular version, though.
    Good luck!


  4. I thought about doing it again, like I did in 2010, but I know I likely will NOT have time. I have so much work for school and extracurriculars that I don't think I'd be able to manage; I'd just stress out an go crazy. But I'm going to seriously consider trying to find time to do it because I LOVED doing it 2 years ago.

  5. Wow! I can't believe how many people are doing NaNoWriMo this year. When I competed last year I didn't even know one other person who was competing also.
    Anyway, my name is Annie-Jo (Annie-JoV on NaNoWriMo). I'm 13 years old. I'll only be competing in the young writer's program, though. I did it last year and won. Feel free to look me up and buddy!

    Love and blessings, Annie-Jo

  6. It was lovely to read this post, Elizabeth, and know your plans for the month of November! I've never done NaNoWriMo before, but it fascinates and scares me all at once and should very much like to attempt it one day.

    As I am currently working on 'The Crown of Life', and my biggest goal is not the number of words I write but the progress I do in the story, I doubt I will be joining NaNoWriMo this year (However, I have done an account, 'Joy C.', on NaNoWriMo, so feel free to look me up and buddy because I may still cheat and join :)

    But Lord willing, I look forward to doing a writing challenge in November and get as much done in my novel (and maybe... just maybe finish the first draft by December... who knows?). It is just awfully exciting and I can't wait!

    God bless and have a wonderful writing month too :).
    ~Joy @


"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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