Something Happened on the Way to Camp NaNoWriMo

In early December, I had a post-NaNo Facebook conversation. I wrote this in passing:

 Honestly, I’m a little surprised more people didn’t win. Over 300,000 participants, and only about 41,000 winners.

I had hit my 50,000 with a day or two to spare. My 50,000 was “pure”—I hadn’t included any of the writing I did for Walking Ledges, nor for any of my games, nor any of my brainstorming. I certainly didn’t include the conference paper that ate my first weekend of writing. I was proud of myself and excited by the proto-novel that I would only later start calling Ghosts of the Old City.

In attempting to repeat the 50,000 word feat in April, I have a much better understanding of how those other 260,000 people came up short of the NaNo benchmark. In November, I was working…but not full time. I had an hour or two a few mornings each week to write. I had the energy to go to weekday write-ins and saw enough of my kids to spend my Saturdays away from them sans guilt.

April has been different. I’ve been teaching middle school five days a week. Getting up at 5:30 would be great for writing if I didn’t have to get myself ready and help make sure everybody’s ready to be out the door around seven. After a full day of work, cooking dinner is just…more work. Dishes still have to get done. Clicking through flash games starts to seem a lot easier than trying to muster more words. I spent a Saturday fixing my washing machine, and parts of others doing non-writing socializing.

In short, life happens.

Despite good intentions, I had not shaped an outline before April first. In November I’d hit the wordcount goal, but even then I wrote: “My 50,000 are from all over the probable novel, and do not come close to completing it.” I had scenes I liked without any idea how they went together. I was able to string together a convincing first six chapters from what I’d written. I had part of the final confrontation written. Everything that came between was soup. I had killed off a character; I tried different spots for his death. I decided against killing off that character because his death wouldn’t mean much unless I brought him further out of the background. I had a secondary bad guy that I removed because he was a distraction. Then I brought him back. You get the picture.

That was the first week. The second was the broken washing machine and health insurance shenanigans. It wasn’t until the third week that I began writing in earnest. That was when I discovered something: filling in gaps isn’t nearly as much fun as writing in the leaps and bounds that produce them. When I got stuck in November, I could just jump to a new scene. I could also write “scene seeds”—brief bits of prose (200 words or so) that suggested something cool was happening or about to happen. I was constantly making something out of nothing. I wasn’t worrying about architecture or how well my story would hold together. In fact, I didn’t really figure out what my central conflict was until a lunch break in mid-November, when I was already twelve or thirteen thousand words in.

Now that I actually have an architecture, getting stuck has most often meant skipping over to some other spot where I’m stuck. I think most of the passages are in their proper places, but all the existing material I had in the middle has required some rewriting. No, Emma wouldn’t ask that question because she was there the night before when Maedoc explained it to the chief inspector…wait—Bogul hasn’t attacked Zahra yet, she can’t be frightened…nobody knows that the Owls are actually…. You get the picture. There have been many things to fix, and I can’t just write what seems cool at the moment.

The story makes more sense now, but the re-writing runs counter to the NaNo ethos of “words first.” Even with Camp NaNo’s flexible goals, I still cringe at the way I’m falling behind my on my bar graph. I got much closer to par over the weekend (thanks in part to the write-in I threw together), although some of the words I’m counting aren’t entirely fresh. Fortunately, my real goal doesn’t depend on word counts. I started the month aiming for a top-to-bottom draft. To get there, I think I’ll need to come up with about 10,000 words in the next 60 or so hours. Doable.

Camp is smaller. There’s much less local activity (another thing that has retarded my bar graph’s progress). The month ends in the middle of the week, so there won’t be the all-nighting that rounded out many NaNoers’ November. I have my virtual cabin and the Austin NaNo Facebook group to lean on for support, though. I haven’t given up on “winning.” And even if I don’t hit my wordcount or complete every missing scene in Ghosts of the Old City, I’m still writing. I will have written.

What more could I ask?



  1. Reblogged this on a fiend of awesome and commented:

    Oh how I relate… writing is hard work!

    Somehow, though, in my case, even though I had a pile of life happening, my stubborn streak has kept me going, and I’m just around 3K shy of my goal.

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