November’s come and gone, and with it, the excited frenzy of NaNoWriMo. I’ve posted at least once before about how much I love NaNo, and how it kicked me in the butt to start putting the stories in my head onto paper/screen, so of course I participated again this year. As long as I have a choice, I’ll participate every year!
This time around, I decided to work on three *new* stories I’ve had simmering in the back of my braincave for a good while. It was more than just an itch to write them – I needed to free up some brain space and get some idea of which one to work on next.
Which would have been great…if I also hadn’t decided to try and up my word goal by a lot. Somehow I got it into my head that I could write 80,000 words. Previously my max had been 60.5k in 2015, so 60k became my min goal.
Now, projects! What have I been cooking up, and how much did I want to accomplish for them?
Project #1 = adult paranormal romance, commonly referred to as the Dryads project. I’m super in love with the main characters in this one. It’s much more lighthearted, fun, and funny than anything I’ve written thus far. Goal: 20k words min, 30k aim.
Project #2 = YA space opera involving dragons, thus called the space dragons story. I like the concept of this and had some ideas of scenes, but hadn’t really settled on a plot. Of the three projects, this one felt like the weakest or hardest going in. Goal: 10k words min, 20k aim.
Project #3 = adult cyperbunk or post-cyberpunk, code-named TC. This was the newest idea out of the three, but I was really excited to dive into it. Goal: 20k words min, 30k aim.
One other thing to mention before I get into the results – this year I decided to write pep talks to myself to read at word count milestones. I did this a week or week and a half before NaNo and sealed them up in envelopes, thus ensuring I would probably forget what exactly was on them by the time I reached the goal. These also had rewards on them for motivation, like buying a slice of cheesecake for myself or getting to buy a book off my Amazon wishlist.
I kind of wish I had thought of the personal pep talk thing sooner, because I really enjoyed getting to open up the note and see the encouragement from past-me. The me that was SUPER EXCITED to write three projects, putting down new characters and worlds on the page before realizing I should have prepped more.
So, how’d I do?
Dryads = 38,282 words
Space Dragons = 5,321 words
TC = 5,270 words
Orobouros = 1,011 words
TOTAL (based on my validation file) = ~50,140 words. There is always a discrepancy between whatever word processor you use and NaNo’s actual validation program. I think I actually had around 50.4k combined between all my docs, but didn’t keep track of the last few days well.
But wait, what’s that? That extra project at the end? That, my friends, is another random project I’ve been sitting on for about a year. My brain spontaneously decided to give me the opening for it, and I couldn’t very well just let it languish.
As you can see, the results were 10k less than my min and almost 30k less than what I wanted. Still, if I’d been working on a single project, that 50k would be pretty close to half a book for me.
It’s hard to keep perspective of the words you have written if you’re comparing them with where you want to be. There was one particular Sunday during NaNo where I needed like 8500 words to break even on progress, and all I could manage over the whole day was something around 4100 words.
I was so frustrated! Sitting there, hour after hour, with words coming out but not fast enough to get where I wanted to be. And, I don’t know, after maybe ten minutes of stewing in that frustration and looking back over my word count/progress, it hit me.
I had written ~4100 words on the day. Four thousand one hundred words. Yet I was stuck on this incessant need, this fuckin’ wall I’d built up in my head to scale and haul myself over to consider it a successful day.
You want to know what my normal drafting average is? Probably somewhere between 1500 and 3000 words/day. Previously the most I’ve ever written in one sitting was ~4600 words. This November I had a 6k day (my new PR), a 5k day, a 4k day, and at least a couple 3k+ days. Word counts aren’t everything, but comparing my previous drafting counts to then/now? That’s pretty awesome progress, folks. I had no reason to be ashamed of falling short of that 8500/day goal, or to be hard on myself.
To reiterate: if I had written 80,000 words in 30 days, it’d probably be equivalent to a full first draft on the Dryads project. That. Is. Insane. But…I could probably do it. Possibly even in the next few years.
Unrelated to word count, working on these three projects revealed pretty clear strengths/flaws in my original plans:
- trying to get 80k words from three different ideas is a baaaaad idea
- I need to study Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series for POV/character weight before attempting to write TC again
- Dryads will definitely be the next project up for drafting/revising after my UF is out the door
- If I say I’m going to take all of October off to prep for NaNo, I SHOULD ACTUALLY DO THAT
- personal pep talks are awesome, and will return
- not all stories/ideas can be, or should be, fast-drafted
This last point is something that will sit with me for a while, I think. Dryads has been pretty easy to draft, so far, because the plot and characters have been solidifying in my head for five or six months. I have the feeling TC will be pretty easy to draft too, assuming I get the plot and POV ironed out. Both of those projects are closer to the modern world as we know it, so maybe that’s why.
Space Dragons and Orobouros will take longer because even at this stage they have richer and deeper voices. I don’t want to sacrifice that to get all their words on the page, if it means I’ll have spend months rewriting them. My goal is to write cleaner first drafts so rewrites and revisions don’t eat up gobs of my time. For some ideas that means plotting or outlining better from the outset; for others it will mean writing slower in what snatches of time I find between other projects.
Or it does for now, since I’m not under any deadlines but my own!
My take on NaNoWriMo is that it’s worthwhile to participate so long as you learn something from it, even if what you learn is that you don’t write well under pressure or need to have some extensive outline before starting. Though the default goal is 50k words, word count really does come secondary to the writing itself. And through the writing, putting yourself in that pressure cooker up against a deadline with a suggested word goal, I have a feeling you’ll learn a fair bit about what does and doesn’t work for your process.
If you did NaNo this year – congratulations! Whether you wrote one word or one hundred thousand, that’s still more words than you started with. If you haven’t tried NaNo yet, do it! Give CampNaNoWriMo during March (or is it April?) or July a whirl. You can make your own goals for camp, but still have a deadline. It might help you ease into the frenzy that comes back around every November =).