This’ll be my third year doing NaNo, and each year I have to push a little harder to challenge myself.
I’ve always been a firm believer that practice makes proficiency. You push your work forward and develop your voice by writing as much as you can, not only when the inspiration hits.
To that end, for years I devoted myself to writing short stories. I scouted the news, examined myself and those around me, explored new scientific or philosophical ideas, because once a week I had to produce a new short story. It could be short, a few hundred words. It could be experimental- say, written entirely in the form of text-message conversations or a twitter feed- or it could be a grand science fiction adventure that would be at home expanded into a novel. Sometimes I wrote these in a single night, and other times it took a whole week of researching, writing, and revising.
After doing that for about 5 years, I’d gotten a much firmer handle on my voice, and began to experiment in longer-form stories. But in the beginning, I made the mistake of writing long chapters each week, and on that schedule, they became too episodic, untethered from the greater narrative, and I spent so much time scrambling to get each chapter done that the whole suffered, and required a lot more revising to solidify the overall story. So I focused on outlining, and slowed down my writing schedule. I started writing smaller, more focused chapters. I’m still posting weekly, but it means that I’m usually weeks or months ahead of the posting schedule.
And I do miss that weekly writing challenge; I don’t like hoarding my writing to myself. I miss sharing first drafts on the blog, and feeling like I’m letting someone other than myself down if I don’t write regularly.
Maybe this isn’t true for the “everyone has a book in them” sort of writer, but for me, NaNo provides that sort of endurance training that defines my whole year. The point isn’t to finish that novel in the month, but to push yourself, to see whether you are pushing yourself hard enough every non-NaNo month of the year.
I am an antisocial old (at heart) fart, so I don’t do meetups or chart my progress with other participants. I tally my word counts to calculate how much I can reasonably expect myself to produce, and since I don’t skip around when I write, each day I post my progress to my blog. It’s a kind of performance art, but with less nudity and rotten food slinging (less, but not none- you’ve got to give the audience something, and sometimes feeling the wind through the bush is exactly what’s necessary to break through a block). It’s an opportunity for me to reconnect with my old work habits, and to feel a sense of community around my writing. My family and friends know I’ll be dead to the world, my wife cheerleads me along and rewards me for exceeding my quotas, and I get to focus on myself and my writing in a way I don’t get to do the rest of the year, when I’m writing or revising on my own schedule, or to make a release deadline.
Each year, participating in NaNo teaches me something different about my writing process, and capabilities. So each year, my NaNo gets a little bit tougher. The first year I did NaNo, I finished 50,000 words in November, but had to continue working, as the novel turned out to be longer than that. That draft ended up being closer to 70 or 80,000, and I finished it a week after the month ended. I still call it a win. That novel, Banksters, is newly released in its final, 105,000 word form, available from most etailers in most formats.
The second year I did NaNo, I began a few days early, and finished it a week or so early. I didn’t want to waste the momentum, so I began another project. And finished that one in about three weeks, by keeping my NaNo quota going past NaNo.
This year, I’ll be continuing the tradition of serializing it daily, for one novel, and then I’ll be writing a second novel or novella for the rest of the month, though I’m not going to serialize that one. My NaNo may last until mid-December. But it’ll tell me a lot about how I can spend the rest of my year writing, and it’ll give me a taste of the progress I can make when I make that commitment to my writing.
It’ll leave me feeling like I’ve done something for myself- and especially with how hectic my life is right now, I’m looking forward to that feeling. Everyone deserves to do something selfish, and self-interested, for their own growth once in a while. And NaNo is the opportunity to push yourself in a direction you might not ordinarily think to go. NaNo isn’t just about the story- it’s about yourself.
About Nicolas Wilson
Nic has written eight novels. Whores: not intended to be a factual account of the gender war, and Dag Nexus, The Necromancer’s Gambit, are currently available for e-reader, and will soon be available in paperback. Banksters, Homeless, The Singularity, and Lunacy are all due for publication in the next two years, as well as several short story collections.
Nic’s work spans a variety of genres, from political thriller to science fiction and urban fantasy.
For information on Nic’s books, and a behind-the-scenes look at his writing, visit his website. Sign up for his mailing list to receive a free novella, Dogs of War.