Underneath my yellow skin

NaNoWriMo Rebel Yell

I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times over the past decade or so and for the first few years, I just followed the edict of starting a new novel and writing 50,000 words. I wasn’t trying to push myself because I was new to the whole NaNoWriMo thing and I didn’t want to make waves. The thing is, though, that I didn’t have a hard time with this goal. I am verbose and can write for days. Or at least, I could in pre-pandemic times. I’ve been struggling in the past few months, churning out fiction that was functional, but didn’t have that pizzazz to it. I’m not unique in this as I’ve read and heard that many people are having difficulty concentrating on daily tasks.

For the past few years, I’ve set the goal of writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. I’ve done it almost every day (I think it’s every day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed one every year or so). That means that I’m meeting the NaNoWriMo number count every month. What I’m saying is that it ain’t no thing. And, yes, it’s a not-so-humble brag. I know there’s no way to say it without sounding arrogant so I’m just laying it on the line. I will add that I have a flexible schedule and plenty of time to do it in, which helps a ton. However, I can take a modicum of pride in the fact that  I do it every day because many people don’t, even with good intentions.

I started getting bored with NaNoWriMo. One year, I decided to set a goal of 5,000 words a day. I made it and then some, which was amazing. I didn’t do NaNoWriMo for a few years because I was bored with it, to be frank. There was no challenge except whatever I added to the basic formula. When I went back to it, I decided that I would add my own twist. One year, I edited a novel instead of writing one. One year, I worked on an existing novel. Last year, I think I did the same thing. I looked it up. I just wrote about whatever I wanted to write about apparently.

Last year, I became aware that there’s a subset of people who do NaNoWriMo but with their own goals. They call themselves NaNo Rebels. They do whatever they want within the month of November as long as it has something tangentially-related to writing and it spoke to me. I liked the idea of being a rebel so I embraced the name to my bosom.

So. This year is a very different kind of year, obviously. Last week, I thought about whether I wanted to do NaNoWriMo or not. I am still writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. It’s been a struggle given the pandemic, but I’m still getting it done. I realized that I had no desire to do the typical NaNoWriMo; I haven’t in some years. I am a NaNo Rebel, damn it! None of this boring 50,000 word count bullshit for me.

Let me step back a minute. As I mentioned, I’ve been cranking out some schlock lately. Well, not schlock. That’s being too hard on myself. But I’ve been getting in a rut, writing essentially the same character over and over again, and I was bored. At the same time, I was rereading things I’d written in the past–specifically two trilogies. Both of them were contemporary/urban fantasy fiction. There were mystery elements to them, but that wasn’t the main thrust of either trilogy. That in itself was something different than what I’d been writing for the past several years. In addition, the main character of each trilogy is different than my norm. I’ll get to that in a second. I was fifty pages or so into the third book of one trilogy and halfway through the second of the other. I liked both, but I saw more potential in the second. Or something. I don’t know why I chose it, but I did. I worked diligently on the second book and some very interesting things came out of it. It got pulpy near the end, but I managed to rein it back in. I’m pleased with how I ended the second book. I started the third a week and a half ago and–back up a minute.

Here’s the thing. I decided to set a massive goal with this trilogy. The first book was 230,000 words and I expected the second and third books to be roughly the same. I decided that I was going to finish the trilogy by the end of the year, which meant writing roughly 300,000 to 400,000 words in three to four months. The second book turned out to be 255,000 words and I hope that the third book isn’t even longer. I’ve written roughly 25,000 words of book three (1/10th of the way there!) which means I need to write roughly 100,000 words a month. So. That is my goal for this NaNoWriMo. Writing 100,000 words. It’s daunting, but I’ve done it twice in past NaNoWriMos. Not during a pandemic, obviously, but that is just an added challenge.

One of the best things about writing to me is the surprises I come across while writing. I’ve said it before, but I don’t think of myself in charge of my words. Normally, I have an outline in my brain of how I want a story to go. I write the whole thing in my brain before I actually write it. Not the details, but the broad strokes. This probably goes against all the writing advice in the world, but I never write an outline before I actually start writing. I have my main beats I know I need to hit, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there. But the story definitely knows where it wants to go and it gets mad if I try to make it do what I want.

I’ve said I’m the conduit for the stories I write. I feel honored to be able to hold them until they’re ready to be told. But it doesn’t take much to remind me that I can fuck that up easily. I get bullheaded about how I see things and I’ll stubbornly go down that road until I have several thousand words of shit. I’ve learned that once everything comes to a grinding halt, the best thing to do is to just cut huge chunks out. At the end of the second book, I went off on a wild tangent that I did not see coming, but that I really love. The problem was that I was already pushing 250,000 and I needed way more room for that particular tangent. Plus, it didn’t really fit where I had it. I didn’t need it at that time and it actually took away from the denouement of the second book. So I cut out 20,000 words and stashed it away for later. For the third book. Once I made that decision, I felt so much better and ready to finish the second book.

I’m excited. Do I think I can do it? Hell if I know. I mean, I can do it. Will I do it? Dunno. Will I try? Sure as hell will.


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