It’s been a really strange couple of months for me, primarily because, at the end of September, I started working from home full time instead of going to an office every day. On the whole, it’s been fantastic, and I’m really happy with my current working situation—not the least because it gives me a lot more time for writing—but all changes have some unexpected challenges. So things have been a little zany around here.
But it’s November, so I decided to do NaNoWriMo. I further decided that, since my workload is lighter in November than it has been in months, that I’d do something really insane and try to write 100,000 words in 30 days.
Here’s the thing with NaNoWriMo. It works for some people, but not everyone, and that’s fine. The thing with writing is that there are as many ways to do it as there are writers, so if you try something that doesn’t work, that’s okay, go try something else. I do think NaNo is good for aspiring writers because it forces you to prioritize writing over other things in order to make the goal, and it makes writing a habit for the month. It also forces you to say, “I’m writing a novel” instead of “I want to write a novel,” and for a month, you’re working toward that goal, getting words down on the page.
One thing I learned about myself through the NaNoWriMo process is that the general idea behind it—get those words down on the page—is super important for me. Since my career training is as an editor, and I’m kind of a control freak anyway, I can get obsessive about word choice and phrasing and I used to get stuck in scenes for days or weeks because they weren’t quite right yet, and then I never finished anything. I also actually really enjoy revising. So writing a rough draft, even if it’s not so great, is still a better strategy for me, because if I have the words down, I can work with that and make the story better in the revision process. (And I tend to do 3–4 passes through something before I think it’s ready for anyone else to see it, but see above about control-freak obsessiveness).
I love hearing about how other writers do it. I’ve heard writers say they write in the afternoon because they spend their mornings revising what they wrote the day before. I’ve heard writers say they put painstaking effort into their first draft so that they don’t have to revise much. Some writers write slower or faster than others. Some have full-time jobs and families and just write when they can squeeze it in. None of these approaches are better or worse than others, it all depends on what works for the writer.
I’m a fast first-draft writer, but I take my time with revising. I know I can write 40–50,000 words in a month without breaking a sweat because I’ve done it many times before. Last November, I wrote the bulk of Ten Days in August, or about 75,000 words of it anyway, and I was working an absurd number of hours on top of it. So I figured, hey, I’m logging less hours at the day job—and I have a better commute—so I’ll have time to do more.
But that’s November. The only real difference between it and the rest of the year is that I set a more concrete goal and I tend to write more because… peer pressure, habit, I don’t know. I like going to the local events (I ran them for years, actually) and I get a lot of writing done at those, too. So I write more and my first drafts are consequently a little rougher (not bad, but more typos and dumb mistakes). I’ve become a crazy plotter, so I had an outline for the before November started, which means all I really have to do is sit down and write it.
So, 100,000 words in a month. I’m not entirely sure I can do it—the most words I’ve ever written in a month is about 90,000—but I’m on pace so far. And if I don’t, well, I’ll still have a really solid first draft to revise in December.