It’s the last few days of this year’s NaNoWriMo. Have you finished your 50,000-word draft? Don’t worry if not. Making your words count is more important than your word count, says Linda Gillard.
Do you have writer’s cramp yet? Or typist’s tremor? Have you entered the annual November writing marathon that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? If you did, did you finish, or did you give up exhausted halfway through the month?
I’m a professional writer with six published novels on my CV, so I’m not your typical WriMo-er but, encouraged by the buzz and some enthusiastic writing friends, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first (and almost certainly last) time in 2010.
It was an illuminating experience and taught me a lot about how I write. I gave up halfway through the month with a word count of 26,000. I didn’t abandon my novel, I simply stopped beating myself up about speed and resumed my normal writing pace and methods. I’d discovered that NaNoWriMo was not for me. I eventually finished that novel and, like most of my books, it took me a bit more than a year to write.
I made a good start even though I’d not done lot of planning. (I don’t plan my novels very much anyway, so this wasn’t raising the bar for me.) Producing quantities of words isn’t difficult for me, but writing at NaNo speed confirmed for me what I’ve always thought about novel-writing: finding time to write a novel isn’t nearly as difficult as finding time to think a novel.
And that’s what was missing from my NaNo experience. Time to think. I wasn’t day-dreaming, hypothesizing, re-thinking or revising – all those processes that, for me, are what novel-writing is about. I was just producing an impressive daily word count.
My fictional set-up was promising. The writing was competent. Then at 18,000 words things started to get tough. Artistic decisions had to be made and I wanted to slow down and reflect on what I’d produced so far. I knew I needed to get to know my characters better. In short, I wanted my novel-in-progress to develop and mature. But that’s not what NaNoWriMo is about. It’s about “getting all your ideas down” – that and the big confidence boost of actually finishing a draft.