As regular readers know, I started the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during November. In the spirit of transparency, it is time for an update on this experience.
I did well during the first week of November, but then I was ill and unable to write (or work) for five days. When I participated in this challenge last November, and in Camp NaNoWriMo this July, I was able to catch up after missing out on a day or two of writing, but five days seemed like a much larger challenge.
I started writing again when I felt slightly better (and returned to work, which also involved catching up), but found that not only was I not writing more words every day to catch up, I was writing less than the average daily word target, so I remained just as far behind my target as before.
The other problem I encountered was the realization that my story wasn't going the way I wanted it to. I had outlined the beginning of it, leaving a major plot point as "something has to happen that will bring about a major conflict". Now I had an insight that in order to achieve the sort of conflict I wanted, I would have to rewrite the book from the beginning, changing many of the main characters' personalities, relationships, and attitudes.
At this point, I decided to stop writing the novel. I hope to spend some time thinking about it, outlining and planning it, and eventually writing it from the beginning, the way it should have been written. I may do this during the next NaNoWriMo (or Camp NaNoWriMo), or at another time.
My experience this month has taught me several things about myself and my writing. First of all, I think these challenges are good for some people, in some situations. I know that having written two 50,000 word novels in past challenges helped my self-image as a writer. I now know that I can complete a piece of writing, working through the story, watching the plot evolve, and practicing the persistence required to write every day.
I discovered through writing the previous novels, and particularly this one, that I would really prefer to have the entire plot worked out in advance rather than to "discover" it while writing it. Perhaps this means I'm "controlling", and prefer to bring things up into my conscious mind instead of hoping my subconscious will rise to the occasion. It may also relate to my working experience as a translator, where I am, in effect, writing in one language a text that has been "outlined" in another language. Bringing my translator skills to writing fiction, I would have an outline instead of a source-language text to base my writing on.
Thinking about my writing in general, I have found that I tend to make my characters rather too idealized, and therefore perhaps difficult to identify with. I also seem to bring my personality trait of conflict avoidance into my writing. I find that I haven't been depicting serious conflict, which is the core of any story. My characters have not been put in real danger, and as a result the story felt weak. I need to learn to create flawed characters, to put them into interesting and hazardous situations that threaten them physically, emotionally, or existentially. This is something I hope to work on at the outlining stage.
I don't see my decision to stop doing NaNoWriMo this time as a failure. It would have been pointless to force myself to continue working hard to catch up on a novel that I knew would have to be completely revised anyway. The circumstances forced me to reevaluate the novel and to think about my story writing so far, and I have learned a lot. As in many situations in life, quantity and quality have to be balanced, and I no longer aspire merely to write 50,000 words, I want to write the best 50,000 word story that I possibly can.
I wish all NaNoWriMo participants, and all other aspiring writers, great success in writing and developing their skills.