4 NaNos by Their Numbers and Lessons

NaNoWriMo is a week behind us now so I’m taking a last look back. Way back. Me and NaNo, we have something of a history, which NaNo often reminded me about this year. NaNo’s focus on numbers tells me I’ve participated and won four times and produced 410,682 words. Also, this year (at least this was the first I’d noticed it) they added Wordiest Novel (136,235) and Wordiest Day (7,638).

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month

I’m proud of those numbers, but they’re facts and don’t tell the individual stories of sacrifice, effort, and learning. Notice I didn’t say successes and failures. There’s no failure in great effort.

That isn’t to say there weren’t painful lessons along the way…

The beginning. I’d been wrestling with what I viewed as deficient writing and hadn’t written in months. I was in a bad funk, a low point. I literally decided to try NaNo thirty minutes before midnight on Halloween. I had—nothing. No outline, no characters … just the barest glimmer of an idea. I decided to not take it too seriously and have fun. Believe me, I needed to have fun. I tried a different genre (mystery) and struggled to outline as I went. The novel was kinda, sorta okay. And, yes, it was fun. (61,824 words)Photo: CA Hawthorne

I was a veteran. I had outlines and character sketches. I was going to have the NaNo of all NaNos. I did. But not for the reasons I was expecting. I over-prepared AND ended up with references that weren’t user friendly. The novel? Some great scenes, but mostly dull. My long awaited return to Ontyre fantasy amounted to good practice. On the other hand, I completed the draft by the NaNo midpoint and went on a short story writing binge. It was as if all the short stories buried in my head all these years exploded all at once (I’d written two prior). I learned my novel process wasn’t working and how to employ proper story structure. Most important, I became a short story writer. (123,027 words)NaNo 2015 for Bleeding Heritage and short stories. It's easy to see where I transitioned between the novel and the short stories. I'd gone back and added a few scenes to the novel, which resulted in low counts those days.

Okay, I told myself, this was to be the year it all went right. I was running on a high after huge success with process and story during Camp NaNo the April before. I was drafting the sequel. It was my third year so I had plenty of experience. What could go wrong? Poor background prep and health. Admittedly, it started great. The first nine days were amazing and then I kept bumping up against events that occurred before the first novel. I dodged, weaved, and it didn’t work. I considered switching to writing more backstory—and came down sick … lung infection sick. I “won” on the twelfth and limped to the end adding minimal words so I could earn the silly “daily update” badge. I literally was slumped over my desk typing. A mess. The novel was incomplete and I didn’t recover physically until February. (89,596 words)

Hands down, my best NaNo and the one I almost didn’t do. I’d completed my third viable novel the previous April so why write another? In the end, I decided to write up the missing backstory needed to repair the 2016 mess. Over the course of my 2-week prep work it spiraled into a legitimate prequel novel. Words flew to the page. I stayed healthy. My narrative outline was exactly what I needed, but there was room for inspiration. Again, I finished early (like 2015) and so jumped into short stories (6 in 6 days, each 4.5-5.0K long). Finally, the NaNo I’d been waiting for. (136,235 words)

A takeaway? It took four years and considerable effort just to find the process that worked for me. That’s not counting honing my writing skills and finding the right story.

Right. Key word.

The right novel. The right prep. The right life circumstances. The right skill level. The right amount of experience. Often the big lesson was knowing via experience how to weather the issues that cropped up. My time management was far better in ’17 than ’14. I also took better care of my health and knew what effort was overkill and what was vital.

Still, if I had to point to a single biggest takeaway it’d be this: There are countless methods for prepping and writing out there and my biggest lesson was learning what worked for me. That’s taken four years and is still evolving.

3 Replies to “4 NaNos by Their Numbers and Lessons”

  1. Pingback: 4 NaNos by Their Numbers and Lessons | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. I’ve “won” NaNo four times now — word-count wise this was my most successful – but use-able product wise it was not (also, not my worst). I feel like what’s “right” varies each yaer for me, so I have to approach each year with a different tact. Figure out what I need NaNo to do for me that year, and use that to inform my approach.

    • I completely agree with the idea that each story/year is different. There’s a certain amount of adaptability that’s required too because you never know what snags you’ll run into.

      I wrote a novel last April that went great and that process worked again, but with some new tweaks. After all, this NaNo was a prequel so I knew some of the characters, but I was also filling in holes and having to spin the story so there were new revelations.

      It does sound like your process is moving along well and I hope you have more success with your finished product. Back in 2015 I revisited structure (mine was off) and started learning writing in Deep 3rd, which has taken me three years to grasp even at the level I’m at now.

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