It’s the beginning of December today, which means the end of National Novel Writing Month. I’m very proud to say that I updated my wordcount for the final time on Saturday 28th November, writing 4,056 words that day and taking my total to 50,275, and exceeding my goal of 50,000. Then, in an exhausted haze of I-will-be-happy-soon-but-it’s-not-quite-sunk-in-yet, I went to bed. When I woke up on Sunday I faced, for the first time in nearly a month, no pressure to write a certain number of words that day, or even to write at all. This blog post is a reflection on the process, what I have learned, and the next steps.
But first, some stats!
I wrote 50,275 words in 28 days, which is an average of 1,733 words per day. My average writing speed was 22 words per minute – this seems slow, but remember, I’m not just hammering the keyboard, I’m thinking about what I am writing at the same time. This works out at about 2,186 minutes of writing, or roughly 38 hours. My lowest daily word count over the month was 530 words on the 18th November, and aside from my last-push effort of 4,056 words on the 28th, my highest word count was 3086 words on the 26th November. NaNoWriMo.org informs me I write the most between 10:00AM and 11:00AM, but I cannot tell whether this means I write the most words during this time, or I write most frequently during this time. (If anyone knows the answer, please let me know in the comments!)
I worked on a variety of projects (more on that in a moment) over the course of the month, which means a variety of word documents. I miscounted slightly somewhere along the way, and my NaNoWriMo wordcount and my Microsoft Word wordcounts are not quite the same – however, I continued writing until both were over 50,000, to be sure I had met my goal.
So – did I reach my goals?
My goal was to write 50,000 words, so yes, I unequivocally reached this goal. I started November with a plan/outline for a children’s’ story, with the aim of writing a first draft of this and then assessing how much of the month/wordcount was left before deciding what to work on next. I finished this first draft after just over a week, and it stands at just over 9,000 words. I haven’t opened the word document since. There’s a great deal about it I am not happy with (it’s too short, for starters), but mainly, as I was nearing the end of this first draft a different idea seized me and has not let me go since.
Enter project #2, a fantasy story. I don’t want to say too much about it just yet (mostly because it will almost certainly change and evolve beyond all recognition before I let it loose in the world) but it’s set in a world of my own creation, and centres around a protagonist who is trying to build a new life for herself after hers, for various reasons, comes crashing down around her ears. This project captured my imagination, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it seized me in its teeth, sat me down at my computer, and refused to let go, while I could barely type fast enough to get the words on paper as they occurred to me. As with my previous first draft, I began outlining this with the snowflake method, but soon I was simply brain-storming on the page as ideas came to me.
Writing out a few ideas for the scenes I was most excited about took my word count up by 7,000 words – including writing several versions of one scene because I couldn’t decide which version I liked best. I then got slightly carried away answering questions such as ‘how do the geographical features of my newly-created world affect political relationships between the different regions’ and ‘how do I address race sensitively without falling into some of the common fantasy stereotypes.’ This led me to create an 8,000 word document of worldbuilding, where I planned out some of the main features of the world. (I also created a physical map, but that doesn’t contribute to my wordcount!) Finally, I realised that in order to explain why my character was behaving in certain ways now I needed to understand her backstory – and truly understand it, not just scribble a few ideas in the margin. I really let my imagination go wild here and focused simply on having fun and enjoying the process as I absorbed myself in writing what was essentially her origin story. 25,000 words of this later I realised that I was putting a great deal of effort into something that was initially intended to be for my eyes only, and at this point I may as well turn it into a project of its own.
Here and there I also managed a couple of short blog posts (which hopefully you have seen!) as well as some blog content that is yet to be published.
So the short answer is yes, I reached my goals. As I came into NaNoWriMo not really knowing what to expect, I can’t say whether my achievements have met my expectations or not – however, I’m pleased with what I have achieved.
What were the best and worst parts of the process?
It’s definitely been a wild ride over the month, and while parts have been amazing parts of it have been less ideal.
The best parts:
- Without a doubt, the best part is looking back and seeing what I have managed to achieve. At the start of the month I couldn’t be sure I would be able to adhere to the commitment and keep writing every day, let alone whether I could actually write 50,000 words.
- There were several almost transcendent moments where I felt like I wasn’t writing the story, the story was writing itself through me. I was just the tool for getting the words on the page, and as helpless before it as a twig in a fast-flowing river.
- My world, my rules! I get to create a fantasy world that takes all my favourite settings and ideas and stitches them together into something uniquely mine. This was a real test of my imagination and is still a work in progress, but I feel proud of what I have managed so far.
The worst parts:
- There were definitely times where I had to forego other activities in order to get my wordcount in, where I would have rather have been doing something else, but had to sit down and focus on my writing instead.
- Conversely, there were also times where I desperately wanted to carry on writing, but had to go to work, go to bed, clean my house or do other unfortunate requirements of being a functioning adult.
What have I learned?
- I’m less of a planner than I thought I was. I sat down to tackle project #1 with a detailed outline of the entire story, a spreadsheet listing everything there is to know about my characters, and a rigid story arc. I began project #2 with an idea in my head and a blank word document. I would never have imagined myself ‘pantsing’ – writing by the seat of my pants – in this way, but somehow it happened.
- This leads me on to point 2 – plans are important. Not creating a plan before I started writing meant I had to stop partway through, take a step back, and make sure I wasn’t writing myself into a corner. If I had made and stuck to a plan to start with, I wouldn’t now be faced with 25,000 words which may or may not end up being deleted.
- Let your characters tell the story. My story really came to life when I considered the characters rather than the plot. In fact, I realised the characters are the plot – their goals, experiences and the challenges they face are what drives the story forwards. When I stopped mashing my keyboard long enough to step back and come up with some form of plan for project #2, the plan didn’t really come together until I considered character arcs rather than just story arcs.
- It’s really, really hard to translate the vibrant imagery I see in my head to a coherent sentence on the page. I wasn’t expecting this to be so difficult, and I spent a great deal of staring into space, trying to picture the scene inside my head clearly enough to create meaningful sentences that would allow my readers to see it too.
- My original ideas will without a doubt change and warp beyond all recognition. I kind of knew this would happen, but it was still a shock when it did. Project #1 originally had aliens in it, which are most definitely not present in the first draft. I’ve spent more time writing the prequel to my original idea for project #2 than I have the original idea itself. No doubt, I have yet more changes to make before anything comes together into a coherent whole.
What will I do next?
Project #1 – the children’s story – requires intensive editing, expanding and rewriting before it is fit to be anything other than firewood. I’m not surprised at this at all, nor do I mind. I may or may not get round to doing this.
Project #2 – the fantasy story – consists of a ‘backstory’ and ‘main story’. At the moment I am vaguely thinking of separating them more fully into two separate stories. Books one and two in a trilogy, anyone? (I even have the teeny, tiny glimmerings of an idea for the third book…)
So, there’s plenty there for me to be getting on with. For the next few days, I will be enjoying slightly less pressure, and the ability to choose to write if I have the time and motivation to do so. I’ve loved getting in a habit of writing every day, and I would like to keep this up, but I am not going to be too hard on myself if I fall off the wagon now and then.
Realistically, my immediate next step involves taking the newly-created plan of my ‘backstory’, expanding it, and fitting what I have already written into it (or deleting where appropriate). At the moment this feels quite daunting, so I’m procrastinating by writing a blog post instead!
I still plan to continue updating my blog, too – so I’m certainly not short of things to keep me busy.
Will I do NaNo again?
Yes – if the timing is right. Entirely by coincidence, as NaNo approached I was finishing off the plan for project #1. NaNoWriMo was the motivation and jump start I needed to actually sit down and write the thing. If, by the time next November rolls around, I am at a point where I want to be writing (rather than editing or planning) I may consider signing up again, but if it doesn’t fit with where I am in the process, I will give it a miss until it does.
So, in summary…
It’s been a challenging, exciting, imaginative, frustrating rollercoaster of a month. While I can’t say I enjoyed every second, I’ve got a lot out of it (first and foremost, 50,000 words!) and I am looking forward to whatever the future brings.
Thank you, if you have come with me this far, if you’ve supported me, cheered me on, encouraged me, or simply read my updates as I’ve written them. Watch this space for more updates, and if you liked this post, please subscribe to my blog and share it with anyone you think may enjoy it.