Yes, this really is my first blog post for this website in four years. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. In fact, since the last time I wrote about writing, I’ve written 3 or 4 more (draft) novels. And then I wrote some non fiction. And then after my friend died, I mostly wrote a lot of poems, journals and legacy blogs for his website. When I knew it was time to get writing for me again, I didn’t know where to start.
So I didn’t know what story I was trying to tell when I started NANO. Mostly, I was doing it to get back into the habit of daily writing. Remembering how to write fiction. Getting all the pent up words and emotions out and on the page. And sticking to a strict writing target to get something drafted. I have talked a lot about how I find writing cathartic and therapeutic, and how I have used writing in therapy with young people. This is truer of my NANO project than almost anything else I’ve ever written. It didn’t actually matter whether I finished, or how it turned out. It just mattered that I began.
I couldn’t even remember when I last did NANOWRIMO – I had to look it up; it was 2014. But it felt good to be writing something different.
I kept a daily diary on social media. That was primarily as an accountability check. I usually don’t tell people what I am writing until I have some drafts that I am feeling excited about. So sharing in my network meant that I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t started if I didn’t get it finished. I did finish, the first draft, 29 days, a NANO record for me.
Here is a snapshot of my NANOWRIMO diary, and a few insights about writing and why we do this mad NANO adventure, that I learned along the way.
Ready, set, GO!
Day 1, on track, 2297 words. Have no idea what I’ve written or what this story is about yet. But I’m excited to find out! It will be a long time before I have anything shareworthy… what I need most is to remember to not make that hour a day I need to smash 1600 words falling to the bottom of my priority list everyday.
Day 2. On target. +1908 words, progressive total 4205. So I have worked out there are 3 characters, I know their names, and I know I’m going to kill one of them That’s all I’ve got so far. #pantster. I am just spewing words on a page. But I can edit a bad page; can’t edit a blank page.
Day 3. Almost a day ahead of target, +1966 words, progressive total 6171. Strong start, will likely drop off the pace after the first week if past years are any indication. But it’s nice to be in a good position early in the race. It’s not a sprint. #marathon.
Day 4. Still sitting just above the curve. +1802, total 7973 words. Procrastinate for 11 months and then write a whole book in 30 days. Why am I doing this???
Day 5. Slipping off the pace and down on words today but still just ahead of day 5 target overall. Managed to find only +570 words in the last hour before midnight as I dozed on the couch, total 8543. Need a couple of big days to get my lead back. I’ve never finished nano from in front, I’ve always been behind the pace from about now and had to smash myself at the end to get over the line. When I work out what these people are doing and why, hopefully the big bursts will come. Otherwise it’s going to be a really short book! I do think I write better in big bursts so will be keen to see the quality of what I write with this level of discipline and daily reporting.
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Day 13. A negative number for yesterday (minus 10), but numbers lie. It was a positive result. Spent my nano time reshuffling and adding STRUCTURE (*gasp*) and editing (so cutting) and so now I can see a PLOTLINE (*gasp*) and I feel like I can move forward filling in the story rather than running out of puff at the half way mark. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Pantster in me might derail it, but let’s see if I can smash some words before midnight.
Day 21. +3040, progressive total 37385. I’m a whole day ahead now which I am certain (without checking back to past nano stats MUST be a first for me). I am not feeling stressed about the next 9 days. I am comfortable with adding the paragraph here and there rather than big chunks at a time now. 1400 a day required to win it. Also my graph looks YAY!
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Day 23. +2277, progressive total 41757. 2 days ahead of target. Daily words needed to finish now 1100. I’ve never been in this position in the 4th week of the month. Normally thousands of words behind. Going for a record to see if I can finish BEFORE the 30th!
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Day 27. +1289, progressive total = 47841. It’s a bit like pulling teeth at this point, 2159 words to go, with the whole weekend and Monday ahead of me before the 30th. It’s slow going, reading through each chapter, slashing and adding at the same time so the word count doesn’t move much 21 paragraphs to go. 720 words a day is the current target, but I think I’d like to hit 50k today or tomorrow. Facebook memories showing me from previous nanos that I have finished from a much more precarious position than this…
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Day 29. It’s not midnight yet, nor is it the 30th yet. So maybe I will update final stats tomorrow, but for now:
One of the things I came to understand about my writing process, whether it’s NANO time and compact and intense, or at any other time, is that those first words, once I have an idea, come easily. I can smash out a list of ideas, then tackle each scene I see, until I have written all of them, and then have to make it into a story. This happens after a week in NANO, and usually after a couple of months when it’s not NANO time.
After that, I have to really start to plan, which is hard for a pantster. There is a lot of re-reading and reordering and adding connecting scenes and plot lines, so a half hour session could be zero, or even negative words, as I refresh what I’ve written and wait for inspiration. And a two hour session might feel super productive as the story starts to fall into place, but it doesn’t look like much on the page.
So, why do we NANO? Why do we spend a whole eleven months procrastinating and avoiding targets, and then a mad month smashing ourselves to chase insane targets.
For me, if I write throughout the year, my progress is slow. I meander around on a story because there is no pressure of daily targets or the win slipping away.
For me, it is also that as a pantster, I plot and plan on the run, and if it takes me too long to write the story, by the time I finish the first draft, the characters and the plot have got lost and evolved too much to have a firm identity. But if I NANO, I can get a draft done fast, and then spend the whole next year fixing it up.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
Another thing I worked out between daily updates, was a reflection on the old “write what you know” adage. It was a good place for me to start this year, because I had no idea what I was writing or what the story was about, just that it had been too long, and that I writing was a therapeutic outlet for me, so I wanted to grab those bursts of human experience to project onto these poor unsuspecting characters. I also knew that NANOWRIMO was a perfect opportunity to just go for it without thinking too much, because there is no time to plot and plan as you go.
The working title of this new story was The consolation prize. It may change, but the central theme seemed to be finding something new and good amidst the devastation and fallout of loss, so it fit me for the time. It was admittedly quite cathartic to spill out all the feels and project them onto these helpless and unsuspecting imaginary characters who need help to sort themselves out!
So I had been thinking about “write what you know”, and wondered… surely, as we evolve, our writing evolves, and those things we know, as we grow and change (if we are open to growth and change) we know better, and wiser, and hopefully we feel stronger, and articulate more freely, insightfully and with more reflection to come to more satisfactory conclusions.
I am not saying that this WIP will be better than any previous work, because for sure I am rusty at fiction; and most certainly I have written “what I know” in ways that are right now not even vaguely veiled or disguised enough to be passable as fiction, such that those who have been in my sphere will likely recognise the familiar.
But most definitely, what I have written is what I know, and one of the things I know is that when I wrote the final chapter of this story, I cried my eyes out as the last sentence went on the page. I still had about 13000 words to write, but the ending wrote itself as I sat down with my puppeteer fingers on the keyboard. I didn’t know it was the end of the book until I wrote it and my head said “STOP!”, and so I stopped, and I then I read back over the paragraph before it, and the final sentence, and burst into tears.
So I am sharing this little reflection because I often don’t know it’s the end, and I often have to really struggle to reach an ending that is both satisfying and real. And this time, it happened on its own. After that, it was time to go back and add those 13000 words in backstory, character details, snippets of joining plot, and of course, making it “more fiction”.
Every person in this story is made up. Every relationship, conversation and storyline they venture on – fiction. But every emotion, cognition and nuance they experience in their journey is the “write what you know” part. Those things as they translate into this story, were grief, loss, sadness, gratitude, hope, love, joy.
They always say the best creative stuff comes from the hardest places. I initially thought I might write some fluffy fantasy fiction just to get me started again, and just avoid all the hard words, hard stories, hard conversations. But that is not what I know. If you’ve been on me with this journey, you’ll quite possibly recognise snippets in the story. I do hope I can fictionalise it enough to share it one day.
And that’s why we NANO.