My NaNoWriMo 2017 Experience, or Why I Won’t Do It Again

Like many other millions of people around the globe, I decided to take part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month for November, NaNoWriMo for short. I decided on a whim in October, when I saw it was coming up, and decided it would be a good time to work on a novel I’ve had planned and ready to go for almost a year now: The Deliverer.

First, a little background on The Deliverer. This is an idea I’ve had kicking around for a while now, a dark fantasy novel with minimal horror elements. The original premise stemmed from a question I had one day: “What would happen if someone was forced to escort an innocent, yet willing person to their death?” I like snowy landscapes so the setting became a land torn by harsh winters, but then I was presented with the problem of why someone would willingly travel across such a dangerous landscape just to die at the end anyway. This brought about the behind the scenes villain of the piece; the Angel. If the harsh winters were brought about by this creature, and only a sacrifice would sate it, now there’s motive for this character to travel through such a dangerous situation, willingly, just to die at the end. Throw in an ancient war that the humans lost, a broken land full of lore, demons that increase in number with the cold weather, and a potentially corrupt Kingdom that no longer knows how to deal with everything going on and you have the basis for The Deliverer.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been sitting on this story for over a year now. Once I came up with the main ideas I spent several late nights planning what would happen in each chapter in detail and then… did nothing with it. Life came up. Other projects came up. At some point I even started writing the first chapter but life got in the way again. I moved to the other side of the world. I got a new job. I adopted two sick kitties. You know, little things :p When I saw NaNoWriMo was coming up, it seemed like a good opportunity to dive back in and maybe even finish it, finally.

Those who know me know that I’m an all-or-nothing person. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50 000 words over 30 days, which equates to roughly 1667 words a day. Only, the goal for my novel was the standard debut fantasy length of 80 000 words, which is quite a bit more. I had no illusions of writing 80 000 words in a single month, especially not when I have several other projects constantly on the go as well. November, it turns out, is also a terrible month for me, time-wise. My birthday is in November, and my sister and several other family members also have birthdays in November. The new Pokemon games also came out the day before my birthday, and I am a particularly avid shiny hunter. Ask anyone who hunts these rare, sparkly little creatures. It takes an incredible amount of time and dedication to find just one, let alone 700 or so of them. So, what’s a person to do? I decided to try and write even more words each day to make up for the ones I’d have to miss. My goal was 2000 words a day, missing as few days as possible.

In reality, I ended up writing 2500 words a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. Every morning I’d wake up around 6 am, turn the computer on and be writing by 7 am. I would sit there and write until I hit my word limit, however long that took. Sometimes I’d hit my stride and get it done in two hours. Other times it was a painful struggle, and I could be sitting there at 2 pm, hating my life and hating the story even more. It’s not a good way to develop a novel. By the time I reached 30 000 words, I was burnt out. I was only half way through my draft and all the words were right there that I needed to expand on, but I just couldn’t bring myself to look at it anymore. It was consuming my life, and the more frustrating it became the more difficult it became to continue.

So, I stopped writing.

I lasted 16 straight days. Even on the days where I had very little time, I managed to write something, even if only a few hundred words. You need to keep that momentum going. Once you stop, it’s all over. But at some point the momentum became too much, and the little ball of mud I was pushing up hill turned into a boulder that crushed me on its way down. Because I wasn’t just working on The Deliverer. I was also translating stories for Kowabana. I was writing, editing and publishing several chapters of Tale of Yashima each week. I was writing short horror stories for nosleep. I was working on shorts and extras for my mailing list and Patreon. All of these things are weekly and don’t stop just because I want to try my hand at something else. It was too much work for a single person to deal with, and something had to give. I was writing close to 6000 words each and every day. That’s a full length novel (with room to spare) every two weeks. Very few people can keep that pace, and I’m certainly not one of them.

It’s the end of November now and NaNoWriMo is drawing to a close. What did I learn from the experience? To pace myself. It would have been better for my time and sanity to perhaps aim for just 1000 words a day. Still a decent amount, but not so much that I would be writing for 18 hours a day trying to get everything done. If you’re looking to try NaNoWriMo yourself, remember that the only person pushing you, is you. You have a life, you have a family, you have other things to attend to and writing a whole novel (or even half a novel) in a month is time consuming and mentally punishing. Set your own pace and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet it. This isn’t running for the presidency, it’s writing a novel (for many people, their first novel) in your spare time.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? Probably not. I have a lot of projects that require constant attention already. Will I continue to write The Deliverer? Absolutely. I wrote more just this morning, and plan to release it early next year, as planned. Only now, I’m taking my time to make sure it’s as good as can be. To make it the story I want to write, not just words I’m putting down to meet some imaginary goal in my head.

Kudos to all NaNoWriMo contestants this year, successful or otherwise, I hope your novels went well and that you enjoyed your experience. I definitely learnt a lot from mine. If you did take part this year, leave a comment and let me know how you went and what type of novel you wrote. I’d love to hear from you!

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