I’ve never won NaNoWriMo. In fact, for quite a few years my tradition to spend most of October gathering my thoughts (usually an abandoned plot from my 20’s), then to announce with great fanfare that I’d given up on the 30th. At the time I had little kids, one who birthday is November, and as much as I wanted to write, I was out of the habit. November wasn’t a good month for a me to start up again.
Once upon a time, in high school, I wrote everyday. I wrote crap (except one that’s a shocking contemporary YA that I might play with one day), but I was prolific. I finished things. Something changed in my twenties. I wanted to take my writing more seriously, but that seemed to result not in better writing but more a high minded opinion of my writing… and fewer words. Instead of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, I fantasized about writing. I didn’t write my stories, my Great American Novels, I started them, plotted them in head and then watched them fade without ever getting to the Great Big Scenes that were the whole point. I was frustrated because I couldn’t finish. I thought NaNoWriMo would motivate me. When it didn’t, I quit writing.
(Except I never really quit. I write like a compulsion. I create characters and stories for them like I breathe. Like impulse and instinct.)
Then in March of 2010, I started working on an idea that had been floating in my head for about 15 years. It was the 2nd of March and I thought to myself, let’s see if I can do 50,000 words in 30 days. I had a 5 year old and a 2 year old, but just my husband’s birthday, no major holidays to prepare for. I COULD DO THIS!
And I started out strong. I could get 2000+ words a day under good conditions… 4000+ under great ones. Then I hit a lull. (The 15k Wall I call it now.) I had no idea what came next. I wrote tedium. I started, once again, fantasizing about what came later, of my couple (Oren Marsten, a young scholar prince and Alys a novice in a dying religious order) climbing up a mountain to get to complete their quest, but stopping along the way to consummate their relationship. I remember lying in bed, picturing the scene, and knowing “this is how it ends”. Not the story, but my writing of it. Because I was about to do thing that I did. I was about the make this scene the End All Be All. And then never get there, failing once again.
And then I thought, “what if I write it?” What if I get up right now, jump ahead and write Alys and Oren Marsten in the mountains? The worst thing that happens is that I don’t finish this novel either. But, at least this way I get to write my big scene.
So I wrote Oren Marsten and Alys in the mountains. He falls, she tends to his wounds, they have adorable PG-13 sex. I was thrilled.
So I jumped to the next scene I wanted to write, the wedding of Oren Marsten’s brother, I think. Which leads to a realization about my plot. Things were happening at the wrong time. I rushed back to the beginning. I saw the story I was really writing. It was a quest. It was a journey. And I knew where they were going now.
For reasons, I that I won’t detail here*, I didn’t get 50,000 between the 2nd and 31st of March 2010, but I got 35,000. Eight months later I had a finished novel for the first time in nearly 20 years. I didn’t even hate it.
Though this novel will remain ‘drawered’ because fantasy/sci-fi is not my genre. (Like to read it, love to watch, but I get bogged down in world building when i write it. Seriously, I have maps, myths, histories and religious orders.) Oren Marsten and Alys, and their sex scene proved to me that I can finish. And I continued to finished. I’ve written two mysteries since then, and by the end of this year I should have a contemporary romance drafted too.
*Maybe I’ll write some more thoughts on NaNo posts later this month. Because that March and my March NaNo taught me a lot about my process.