Thursday, 6 November 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

(Disclaimer: contains shameless self-congratulation and bragging. You are under no obligation to read any further).

When I finished NaNoWriMo 2010 in a little under 8 days, I knew I could do better. I proved that in 2011, by bringing my personal best down to under 7 days. At that point, I foolishly opined that I could complete the 50k in five days, if I had them completely free. That would require me to be able to take time off work, though, which has not really been possible for financial reasons in the intervening time.

I improved my personal best again in 2012, to six days and fourteen hours, despite still having various professional commitments. Last year I was on track to better even that, but my chosen project ran into a thick tangle of character and theme issues which weren't fixable within a NaNoWriMo mindset (it would be fair to say, too, that I neither prepared well nor was quite as committed to it as my ambition required). Having thought at one point that I would break 6 days, I ended up finishing the 50k on the last day of the month, and then only by switching to another project altogether for the last 10-15k.

That actually gave my writing confidence quite a hit, and this year I've been going back and forth over whether to do NaNo. The biggest question was what project I was going to write; with the Second Realm over, I was having all kinds of trouble deciding what to work on next anyway, and choosing a project suited to the intensive, relatively research-and-planning-light NaNo process just made that question more difficult.

I settled on a plan whereby I'd only do NaNo if I could finish last year's project before November, so that I could get on with its sequel this year (that series remains almost uniquely suited to NaNo, as far as my ideas go). I failed utterly to get last year's project finished on time, though I did at least make some progress.

So I thought I wouldn't write something new for NaNo. I figured I could get on with one of the many bits of editing I need to do. Then I discovered that reading week for the courses I teach on falls this year on this week, the first week of NaNo. Since this entails not having to do anything this week for what this year is the much more significant of my jobs, I was gutted that I didn't have a proper NaNo project. I started to think about some way to make the 'edit things' plan more concrete.

Then life dropped another heavy hint. My current client for my other job turned out to be on a field trip from last Friday through this Wednesday (i.e. yesterday). Since that meant not seeing him until Friday of this week, the first week of November was now completely free. I gritted my teeth and tried to pretend I'd never bragged to myself that I could do it in five days if I had them completely free. I told myself I'd get through an entire editing pass on the season 1 collection of The Second Realm instead (no mean feat given that's currently around 125,000 words). I prepared accordingly.

And then the powers that be got sick of dropping hints altogether. I woke up on Thursday morning from a dream about the tail end of a horror movie scenario, the heroine finally escaping and burning down the haunted house, to realise that I had been given the seed of a new idea, well-tuned to address a theme I've been keen to address for some time.

Even then, I prevaricated somewhat, hemming and hawing over whether I had a setting I could write in, an ending I could write towards, a selection of characters which befitted this commitment. The muse, or whatever other vengeful god it is that sees to it we are required to make good on our outrageous boasting, obligingly answered my every question.

I wouldn't speak in such mystic terms, but seriously, it is sometimes pretty hard not to be superstitious. An entire novel plan fell into my lap in the space of about thirty hours right on the cusp of the best writing opportunity I've had in about three years.

So I wrote the damn thing. Well, in honesty, I wrote about half of it, padding frantically and egregiously. It's NaNo, there isn't time to stop and think about whether what you're writing really serves your final goals. The last day's progress included some pretty big I'm-definitely-editing-this-out-later moments; the main character's mother turned into an appauling comedic stereotype in the midst of an otherwise serious narrative about haunting and harassment, and I took a couple of thousand words to just tell a random unrelated ghost story mid-scene, for example.

But as of about 11:30 last night, I'd written my 50,000 words, in five days flat. Strangely, it's been physiologically the least debilitating NaNoWriMo I've ever done. I planned better, was careful to always get enough sleep, to take regular breaks, to make sure at least some of my snacks were healthy (cherry tomatoes are god's gift to the compulsive snacker). Today, apart from a slightly sore wrist, I feel great.

Whether that feeling will persist once I go back and look at what I've written remains to be seen. I do intend to finish a first draft this month, though I'm taking a couple of days off first. If you want to see me actually writing in real time, you can follow me on, where I've been live-streaming most of my writing for the past few days (disclaimer: at the moment, it's just my Word doc, no webcam or anything, and I've no idea whether it's interesting to watch).

In the meantime, I'm off to look up the definition of 'month'.

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