If you’ve read my posts here, you know I attempted a NaNoWriMo equivalent in September for the first draft of Book Three in The Toki-girl and the Sparrow-Boy series. I knew going in I’d have six days when I couldn’t write, because of mandatory trips to LA. I’ve taken off a few more to take my kayak out while I still can and use my new sail! It’s fantastic, and the time I can use it will end shortly with winter weather. I have taken a couple of days for can’t-wait house and garden chores. So this output represents 19 or 20 days of actual sit at the computer type writing. The thinking parts I do constantly, making me crabby and boring company when I am writing, especially first draft.
What I have achieved: 28,110 words. I am happy with that. What I have is pretty good in terms of story structure, which I see as the purpose of first draft. Books for my middle-grade to adult audience run 35,000 to 50,000 words. I am beginning to glimpse exactly how the end will play out. I expect it will run close to 45,000 when it’s done, and probably 50,0000 when it’s finished.
What I liked: The deadline. It pushed me to start on a certain day. It got me prepared. It kept me going. I am into it. I even had a little moon-viewing for the Super Blood Moon Eclipse, wore a summer kimono, and wanted Moon Cakes, which, sadly, I would have had to start making the day before. My head is in Meiji-era Japan. Other things just have to wait until I am done. Let me at my computer! Don’t bother me; I’m writing. I liked the focus the deadline gave me, and while I’ll take a couple of days off for can’t wait chores and a couple more sails, I am going to finish this before mid-October. I will let it rest a couple of weeks while I do all my pre-winter preparedness things and other stuff I can’t avoid any longer. I will try to get the first re-write in before ski season starts Thanksgiving week. A rewrite takes far less time and goes much more quickly, in my experience. I know “what happens next” already. The bones of the book will be there in my first draft. It will then go to beta-readers (interested? LMK), on a two-week turnaround. I will review their responses and go through another rewrite based on their feedback. Finally it will be off to its editor, while I ski and write poetry, working towards the same summer publication date as the first two books.
What I didn’t like: My attention to word count rather than story. I am afraid of throwing things in that I will cut on first rewrite, or my editor will cut later, because I was going for word count. I have tried hard to avoid that. I don’t like that I can’t really just bang out 1667 words a day, every day. I managed around 1400 on the days I wrote, but there were about ten days during the month when I didn’t. I do have an outline, but it’s just an outline. I write by scene and chapter rather than word count, and I have to think about how each scene plays out. On September 30th, today, I finished a surprising (to me) chapter that wasn’t in my mental outline, but seemed to need to be there. I started the next one, but now I am not sure where that’s going and how that will affect the final sequences, where problems posed get wrapped up, and there are astonishing new developments that will lead right into Book Four. The basics are in my head. I just need to work out the details. It’s going to need some thinking time before I can go on, tomorrow.
Should you do NanoWriMo? Sure. If you have an outline of your overall dramatic arc in your head or on paper, and some idea of your characters’ personal arcs, go for it. Even if you don’t “win,” you win because you have more than you started with, and you are well along (I hope) with your first draft. When NaNo is over, take a couple of days to do laundry and such, then read over what you have, and dive in again until that first draft is living in your computer in its entirety. Don’t lose the momentum. Set a finish date, and keep on plugging. It’s great if you have a hard time sitting down and starting. NaNoWriMo gives you a start date and a goal. Those help you push through the difficult initial task of sitting down, creating a file and typing “Chapter One.”
My conclusion: NanoWriMo is a tool. I think it can be a good one. Use it. Don’t let it use you.
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