NaNoWriMo: That Pesky, Persistent Editor

Current word count: 12,031

Current word count: 12,031

Last year at this time, I think I was a terrifying 3 days behind on NaNoWriMo. I distinctly remember one weekend spending every free moment frantically writing -- that's when the "word vomit" happens, the divergence from plot or the random additions of subplots that don't make sense. I think I went a whole week without working on NaNoWrimo. But I valiantly struck back and kept with it and wrote potentially the worst novel on the face of the planet as a result. 

This year, it's like everything has flip-flopped: I'm at 12,031 words, which is about two days ahead of schedule. Two days. I could not write for two days and not fall behind, not feel like I'm trying to scrabble up on a mountain made of virtual text. 

In the past five days, I've written the beginning of a novel that, ok, might not win any awards, but it's something I might read (if it was $0.99 on my Kindle). What's the difference here? 

Last year, I was in a very different state emotionally. I was incredibly critical about myself and I believe I let my inner editor get the best of me. The best, and weirdest, part of NaNoWriMo is that you really just have to hide your inner editor away for an entire month. I mean, 30 days without listening to the voice in your head that says, "This sentence is bad" or "you should think of a better metaphor." Maybe it's good advice, Inner Editor, but I have 50,000 words to write and I don't have time. Shutting that little voice up is the only way to survive and make it through.

Last year, I wrote and struggled the entire time, because that inner editor wasn't just talking about my horrible novel (and it was bad, guys, have I mentioned?) -- it was talking about me. "That's a horrible sentence" turned into "you're a horrible writer." Who wants to listen to that everyday? Eventually, I stuffed it down, but it was always there, poisoning my writing, poisoning my thoughts and behavior. 

This year, I'm mentally and emotionally in a better place. Suffice to say, I don't hate my life and while my inner editor still assaults me with useless feedback ("you're legs look like stuffed sausages in those boots!"), I'm more able to ignore it and move on with my life.

Writing is easier too. I worried that my day job as a writer would make writing difficult -- writing 6-8 hours a day and then writing more sounds pretty exhausting. But I've found the opposite. After 6-8 hours of writing blogs and copy and more, I actually find I'm energized to work on NaNoWriMo just because it's different. Now that I'm not miserable all the time, having energy to write additionally in the evening is just kind of how it is.

As I continue on NaNoWriMo, I'm sure I'll have more observations on what makes it easier or more difficult. Fighting down the urge to edit, to change, to start over and be "perfect" is a big step towards actually completing NaNoWriMo -- and ultimately, a step towards completing a novel that ends up being at least decent. 

NaNoWriMo 2014


I've completed NaNoWriMo three times. 

I first learned about NaNoWriMo my freshman year of college, but I didn't attempt it until I was a junior. I think this is partly because I was too shy of my writing until I was over the age of 21 and because I always had intensely grandiose plans for novels that never came to fruition (but I was more competent in terms of writing after my sophomore year, so the plans seemed in line with my abilities). 

The first year I completed NaNoWriMo, I wrote a tepid novel called Cut that focused around a girl named Monica. I don't even remember the plot and my feelings of intense embarassment for 21-year-old me prevent me from opening the file on my computer. It just sits there, an embarrassing reminder of everything stupid I've ever done. 

The second year, I was prepared and ready. I wrote a novel called Succotash (a title I stole from our literary magazine name suggestions, that I liked and was mad we didn't choose). Succotash was about a girl named Erin who attended college in Idaho and hated her life. There were several characters based on my favorite musicians (deeply embarrassing) and other characters based on people I knew (including my future husband). The novel is boring and has no plot, consisting of mostly vignette-length character studies repeated over and over again. If I'm good at anything, I am amazing at character studies. I've reread this novel a few times and while it pretty much sucks, it's not horrible and I could probably dig out some good passages for future writing if I had the motivation. 

I skipped a few years after college. I vaguely remember starting novels, but not finishing them. In 2011, my grandfather died in November and I don't remember writing anything for a long time after that. The next year, I was working full-time and couldn't make time in-between my work day and crushing depression. 

Last year, however, I completed NaNoWriMo for the third time. I wrote a novel called Runner's High, that is as silly and stupid as it sounds. I wanted to write a typical crime/mystery novel, but I ended up circling the drain about two weeks in. My idea was simple enough -- a competitive runner witnesses a murder in the woods and helps police track down the killer -- but my lack of research, combined with how bored I became with my main character named freaking Aurora (why, Michelle, why!?), led me to, again, write bored character studies over and over again. The most interesting part of the novel became the fact that the murder victim had an identical twin sister. Really, she should have been the main character, but I was stuck with boring, lame Aurora. I haven't looked at the novel since early December last year and I hope to never have to again. 

So what's on my plate this year? 

Every year, before the start of November, if you register with the NaNoWriMo website, you're encouraged to "create a novel" -- basically, to cement down an idea, a title, a plotline to encourage you to actually, you know, finish. The years I've done this have been a tremendous influence in whether or not I actually finish. 

This year, my novel is titled Buffalo. It's about a girl named Lily whose girlfriend, Autumn (I know, I'm sorry) commits suicide -- or is murdered. Lily moves back home to live with her brother, Andrew, and, through flashbacks and phone calls, unravels Autumn's real life. 

Here's the uncomfortable truth about NaNoWriMo. 

Every year, I know my book is going to be horrible. I know I'm using the worst ideas I've got. I know I'm going to end up getting bored or being too busy and having to write 5,000+ words in a day. I know those things are going to happen, but I do it anyway. And at the end of the month, I'm always elated that I've finished. 

I mean, I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. That's insane. To me, it's proof that I can do it. The writing might be bad; the plot might have disappeared halfway through; but damn, I wrote 50,000 words which means, someday, when I get a good enough idea, I can do it again. I can

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?