Is NaNoWriMo really a good idea? (And are the AIs really out to get me?) by Rosalie Warren

In 2015 I did NaNoWriMo, the writing challenge that encourages you to complete a 50,000 word first draft within the month of November. I needed a bit of motivation for my new science fiction novel, and I believed that the 1700 words (approximately) required per day would not be beyond me, since I often write (or used to write – see below) around 1500-2000 words a day anyway. NaNo seemed like a good way of making sure I kept to that, while enabling me to finish my first draft just in time to start my Christmas shopping.

It proved to be a lot harder than I’d expected. What I’d forgotten was that, although I often wrote as much as 2000 words a day, I generally allowed myself at least one day off a week – sometimes two. I’d even give myself an extra day or so if I was travelling, babysitting, or feeling under the weather. NaNo permits no such luxuries. Or rather, it does, but you have to catch up on any time lost and the whole thing soon gets away from you. It was a tough month and I sometimes found myself getting up extra early to write or catching up on it before I went to bed. Fine, you say. A bit of discipline never did anyone any harm. Think of all those authors with full-time jobs and/or caring commitments – the only way they can write is to get up at 5 a.m. (May I just stop to convey my deepest admiration and respect for all writers who do this. You are true stars and deserve to win the Man Booker, every one of you.)

Somehow, I managed to complete my 50,000 words before December burst upon us, and I enjoyed a brief surge of achievement before the Christmas shopping kicked in. I realised, of course, that what I had was just a draft, and a very drafty (and draughty, as in full of holes) one at that. But that’s usual for me – my first drafts always need lots of work, even to the point of reading them through and then binning and rewriting them from scratch. (Not being able to read my own handwriting is one of the reasons for this, and I do like to write my first drafts with a black inky pen on lovely smooth paper – don’t get me started…) Anyway, the draft was filed away on my (literal) desktop, where it sits to this day, giving me accusing glances as I gaze vacantly at the weather forecast on my screen, devour the Archers website and Authors Electric, and scurry along behind my friends on Facebook. 

Normally, I’d have managed to bring myself to look at it by February or March. I’d have done the requisite cringing that always accompanies a read of my own work (like hearing your voice on tape or seeing yourself on video, ugh). Then I’d have knuckled down and started the rewrite. I might have attempted a synopsis/plan before starting again. Settled on the names of my characters, at least to make them consistent. Checked a few scientific facts online to make sure I hadn’t made stupid mistakes. I’d have soon been writing again, for better or worse, and by now, a year later, I’d have had a second, third or even fourth draft safely stashed in nine different places on my laptop, on our other computer and somewhere in that mysterious ‘cloud’. Oh yes, and a print copy, just in case my story came true and the AIs (artifical intelligences) ate up all our electronic data in their quest for domination of the universe. (If you can’t suspend your own disbelief, whose can you? Is that good English? Probably not…)

I’ve just had a thought. Maybe the AIs have been sabotaging my story from the start? Now that might make for a much better plot… I’ll follow it up later, when I’ve finished blaming NaNo for my failure to produce a book.

No, I’m not really going to blame NaNo. It wouldn’t be fair, though I suspect that 1700 words a day does not suit me as a writer. I think it’s just too much. I ended up so far ahead of my imagination that I was writing drivel – even more than usual, you might want to say. I was writing for the sake of writing and I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Sometimes, yes, like forcing yourself to go for a walk or a swim and then finding you enjoy it after all – but not every day. Writing isn’t the same as walking, anyway. Our creative brains need time to refill themselves. Perhaps everyone has an optimum word rate and the key is to find it, at least when circumstances allow (and to be prepared to adjust it as we change and grow). 

A number of other things have happened this year to put me off writing, including a period of poor health. The thing is, though, I never gave up completely… or not for long. I’m now into another book, which seems to be going quite well (though at a much slower rate than I’m used to, and certainly not 1700 words a day). It’s that NaNo novel in particular that I don’t seem able to face. I can’t even look at it. I somehow dust it once a week without moving the tissue box that lies on top. As for actually opening the folder… no. NO NO NO!!!

The Scary Pile (Note: this photo wins the prize for the least interesting picture posted on Authors Electric in 2016. By a LONG way...)

 I was all set to write this post when, the other morning, I woke up with a little glimmer of something in my head. Maybe I’d had a dream. Or perhaps my brain had done some filing, some sorting, some reasoning, and now found itself able to contemplate that NaNo book again. Not to open the folder. That would be a crazy step too far. But to think, a tiny bit, about the story and the characters, and to admit that it could actually be quite interesting.

Maybe the AIs have decided I’m no longer a threat and removed the firewall from my head. Or maybe it’s simply the passage of time. Whatever has happened, I’ve at least convinced myself that NaNo doesn’t work for me, though I’m sure it’s fine for some of the writers, some of the time. Watch out, though - my second work of scifi may be rolling off the press at some point in the next two (or twenty) years. 

My first scifi novel (2015). It was the people, not the AIs, who were bad in this one. The AIs were fine. That's probably why they let me write it.
Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren
Best wishes,


JO said…
I'm sure NaNo works well for some people - but it's not for me. Like you, I often write 2000 or more in a day, but don't need the pressure of feeling I've 'got to'. I'd rather write because I love it, than set myself up to fail if I can't do it.
Enid Richemont said…
As you already know, I loved "LENA'S NEST", so really looking forward to another sci-fi novel from you however it gets born. Not brave enough myself to commit to NaNo, or at least, not yet.
Bill Kirton said…
NaNo's never appealed to me. On the other hand, I usually do find that once I've found my way into a novel, the desire to get on with it induces a Nano-like obsessiveness, and it wouldn't surprise me to find myself writing 2000 or more words a day quite regularly. Congrats, Rosalie, on sticking with it. I'm sure your latest thinking is right and that, when you can face opening the folder, it'll be far from the monster you're assuming it to be.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks for the blow-by-blow. Deadlines work for me, having been a for-hire writer for so many years, but I worry that my quality suffers. Thank you for the blow-by-blow. I tend to feel like it's only me who hits those firewalls. But don't we all?
Ann Turnbull said…
I'm more of a 200-500 words a day girl myself (and not every day, either) so absolutely no point in me attempting NaNoWRiMo. I'd be trampled to death in the rush at the starting post.
Like Bill, when I have a deadline, I just go for it. I can write 5000 words in a day although perhaps not every day! I've never done NaNo but I think it might help a lot of people to get through that first draft without stopping all the time to edit. I'm an obsessive editor-lots of drafts. But I need to have the whole book drafted to do it even if quite a lot of it is rubbish. (Nobody sees the first draft but me.) Whenever I've tutored groups or done workshops,the main problem people have is in forging on to the end. It's a confidence problem I think. But you can always fix a draft. I think it's better than the dreaded blank screen/page.
Shirley said…
I could never do Nano or whatever it's called as I just don't like pressure to write. I prefer to write when I want to.

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