NaNoWriMo '12 — A Reflection

This marked the second consecutive year I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month. The event — a 30-day voyage of creative writing — prods people to try long-form fiction. You “win” if you hit 50,000 words by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Last year, I failed miserably; I may have hit 5,000 words in the month. The problem then was hubris: I figured long-form fiction couldn’t be that hard. So I arrived at a hybrid plot with no planning that, the more I thought about it, felt horribly confused. The artifice of a genre template obscured what ended up being the interesting kernel of a human-relationship story.
This year, I still didn’t “win” in the sense of hitting 50k — December rolled onto the calendar when I was at but 25k — but I am quite satisfied with how the month turned out. I approached the task with a bit more humility and did more pre-NaNo planning than last year, so I have a product that I can keep working on throughout the year.
Some highlights:

  • I plotted out a script that targeted at 90k words. The structure included 15 different chapters, each planned for about 6,000 words, with well-defined scenes in each and detailed notes about characters, scenes and even science associated with the plot. The goal was “modular writing” — I could have hit my private target if I did one 3,000-word scene per day.
  • I put this work entirely within Scrivener for Windows. I don’t think I could have even gotten close if I had tried a different platform like Word or even my beloved OneNote.
  • I actually stayed on track for the first week or so. Then the netbook passed on, and I tried using my tablet as a remote interface for Scrivener on my desktop at home, but that plan was much better in theory than in execution. I lost a week of progress fiddling with computers and ended up just buying a new laptop. I planned to get a Win 8 Pro tablet but … alas, nothing was on the market at the time.
  • I did lose 4,000-ish words at one point mid-month. I didn’t reset Scrivener’s aut0-save from 2 seconds to 120 seconds, thus creating version conflicts with SkyDrive. My own darn fault, because I did know better.
  • Writing with a group is great when the group is great. When the group is filled with adolescents off their Ritalin, progress correspondingly slows down. Thus, although I tried attending four write-ins per week, I skipped a few on occasion because of the dynamics of that group. The best one was probably the last one I attended, at Literary Life — just me, Brittany and the fireplace. Lots of progress.
  • Because this was a sci-fi novel, I spent a fair amount of time working through getting the science right. That included, for example, spending an hour going down the bunny hole of correctly calculating the force-of-impact of a grain of sand moving at 45 percent of the speed of light in a vacuum — and thus, indirectly, proving the residual value of high-school physics. Regardless, the slog through the first few chapters, when I had to carefully intersperse data about the universe without it sounding like a travelogue, proved more challenging than I hoped. Once I got past that introductory material, the pace of writing sped up and became much more fluid and fun.

I am going to keep going with this novel. I like the premise, and I’m growing fond of the characters. I’d like to hit my 90k marker. I’ve thought of this as the first installment of a trilogy, so we shall see. I’d like a completed novel that I can at the least circulate to agents for review and rejection.
NaNo sometimes gets grief from self-appointed literary types for giving people the impression that novel writing is easy and can be done in just 30 days. I think these critics miss the boat. The real value is that the process forces a writer to get a “zero draft” at least half-way complete, providing a framework for later enhancement and editing.
So. Will I participate next year? As Sarah Palin would say: “You betcha!”

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