NaNoWriMo. If you even dabble in writing fiction you probably know what that means: National Novel Writing Month. The task? To produce, at a minimum, 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,667 per day, on average.
But it’s so much more than that.
To put that number in perspective here’s a task for everyone: Take an average length word, say one of five or six characters, and write it 50,000 times. That’s it. Just write the word (no copy and paste, of course). Now consider that for NaNoWriMo you must produce coherent sentences and paragraphs. Oh, and it’s helpful to have a plot and characters. Oh, and arcs. And settings. And backstory. And…
And just like a couch potato shouldn’t leap off the couch and attempt a long footrace a writer shouldn’t dive into NaNo without some preparation. That’s what October is for. Believe me, if you write fantasy fiction and don’t work on world building before November you’re heading for a nightmare. Don’t underestimate the effort required.
Last fall was my first attempt at NaNo. I finished with almost 62,000 words. Earlier this year I participated in Camp NaNo with a 20K goal and finished with just over 30K words. Despite my word count success, though, the truth is my intentions weren’t entirely pure. I’ve been wandering in the fantasy fiction woods for a long while where I’d taken time to step back and reassess—a lot. NaNo was my way to ease back into fiction writing via experimentation. Thus, last year I wrote in a different genre. Last spring I returned to fantasy fiction, but tried multiple points-of-view. The results were mixed, but the experiences were worthwhile.
After the spring (and pneumonia, and choking on forest fire smoke) I decided it was time. Time? Time to move on—sort of. The old Ontyre maps were single-layer creations produced in Paint at an awful resolution. Changes were virtually impossible. I talked recently about creating brushes in Photoshop Elements so I could quickly produce high-resolution, multilayered maps. I did it! The new map possesses about a dozen layers and the higher definition allowed me to create a more detailed Carrdia map as reference for my novel.
The continent that is Ontyre has evolved in my mind and on notes over the last 20 years, but it’s 15 years since I updated it. The result is reference notebooks stuffed with corrections, amendments, and wholesale changes. Worse, the original information was printed on outdated software and was no longer accessible. For the history I settled on a new format and embarked on consolidating all my notes into a new cyber record. It’s a huge task, and one heading to the back burner for NaNo, but at least it’s begun (500 years entered with another 3,500 to go…not bad).
Recently, too, I’ve produced three fantasy short stories set in Ontyre during the Old Empire’s reign. A preteen girl follows her brother to uncertain safety following the attack that slaughtered her village. A farmer and his injured wife on the frontier discover the Empire patrol there to save them is their greatest danger. A teenage girl escapes stifling confines and walks headlong into a mysterious stranger and unexpected danger.
The creative spark was returned! And that brings me back to NaNo.
The novels for Ontyre I wrote so long ago were decent efforts, but over the years the more I tried to rework them the more they became a mess. I became a writer continually improving an earlier writer’s efforts. After a certain point (like, probably 10 years ago, but instead now) it became time to start anew.
Thus, NaNo 2015.
My focus now turns from overhauling Ontyre to NaNo preparation: plot, characters, arcs, backstory, sleeping while I can…
At heart I’m highly competitive and if I commit to NaNo I expect 50K words—at a minimum. My approach is to operate off a flexible, adaptable structure that I briefly review and update (if necessary) each night through November like headlights showing the way ahead is clear. That way I don’t hurtle pointlessly down a dead end. NaNo’s pace is purposely swift to discourage second guessing and revising. Stumble early on and you can find yourself in a deep hole in days. Too, life always tosses the unexpected your way (illness, family obligations) and for Americans the Thanksgiving holiday looms large near the end of the month.
Anyway, I’ll continue to touch on my NaNo preparations and progress. If you’re also participating feel free to share and the best of luck to you.
Time to get to work.