Nano-Epilogue: Time for Change

by voh on December 3rd, 2017

For the third year in a row, I finished my 50.000 words on time. And in record time, in fact, as I finished right at the end of the third week.

What I know now, after 3 wins in a row, is that the word count is no longer a hurdle for me. Not really. But for all the years I failed, writing daily (or at least semi-daily) and in sufficient amounts was the only problem I could see.

This year something felt off about the whole process, something about it bothered me a lot, and it took me the remainder of November to realize what it was.

I've got the word count. Now I need to focus on completely different aspects of writing -- whether it's a short story or a novel.

My first NaNoWriMo win was after I started doing my nanoprep. 20 days of writing at the end of October, to get into the swing of writing daily and not letting anything stop me from doing so. Whether it's a lack of inspiration, motivation or time, the whole idea of nanoprep is to force myself to make inspiration, motivation and time and just get it done.

But it's left me vulnerable to a different problem. Or, at least, it's brought a different problem to light.

In 2015, my first nanoprep and win year, one of my nanoprep stories (Verification) was the seed for my first novel, "Verified". The short story was a single scene, eventually playing out almost exactly the same around the middle of the book. Unintentionally, that worked out really well. I knew where I had to go and I had enough time while doing so to figure out where to go from that point on.

Last year, I didn't have the same kind of luck. There was no nanoprep story that really stood out as a story I needed to tell more about (even though I did seriously consider Crashlanded for this purpose), and I started from scratch on November 1st. This put me in scramble mode from the start. I had no idea about who my characters were until I was a few days in, and by that time I realized I'd painted myself into a corner in some ways.

I wasn't happy with how that attempt turned out, but I finished NaNo and that was all that mattered. I'd written 51.000 words that I didn't intend for anyone to ever read.

And then 2017 rolled around and I knew I had to also consider what my NaNo novel would be about while I was doing nanoprep.

Nanoprep went great, I wrote some really good stuff (Photographs, The Dog and the Wardrobe and The Cargo stand out for me, personally).

And I had a character in mind for my novel, Hugo Vickers (as mentioned in my previous post), and a vague idea of what kind of adventure he'd be going on.

And I do believe that it turned out okay. I like Vickers, he's a great character, and I like Aerys and Sam, the latter of which deserves far more character development than he got.

But even with a novel that works for me, I simply hated the process.

I wrote without a real break for 44 days in a row. And after nanoprep, it soon stopped being fun.

My focus on writing regularly and getting to my word count was becoming detrimental to the quality of the work. I also found that as I was 'pantsing' (a NaNoWriMo term for someone who doesn't plan their novel ahead of time) every time, I was spending far too much time having to go back to previous chapters and adding in things that were essential later on. I think I spent around 10-20% of my time editing rather than writing.

So, next year, I do things differently.

I don't need to focus on my word count. I'm pretty sure I can nail that without all that much effort now. I need to focus on my characters, I need to work on my structure, and I need to plan ahead. I also need a longer break between my nanoprep and actually writing the novel.

Another thing I need is to break out of the literary comfort zone I've found myself in. I read mostly science fiction, fantasy (though mostly contemporary fantasy), some horror and a small smattering of other genres. But there's too much science fiction in there.

My literary field of view is far too narrow.

So I've decided a few things.

  1. Next year I do nanoprep in September and use October to at least loosely plan for my novel.
  2. The coming year I want to read things that currently would look out of place in my bookcase. Get out of that comfort zone and learn a new thing or two.
  3. For my Fortnightlies (next of which will be the weekend of December 15th-18th), I'm going to try out styles, genres and scenes I'm not yet familiar with. Again, screw that comfort zone.
  4. I'm going to use the experiences I'll attain using the previous points to start working on a real first draft of Verified. Something I've been putting off for far too long.

Writing these short stories and novels for the past few years has taught me a lot. Last year I wrote that I didn't like the 2016 novel ("Lights Out", by the way), but re-reading parts of it now, I see a lot more potential in it than I could at the time.

So I need to make my writing more diverse, the process less focused on going at full blast constantly, and myself less stressed out.

In the meantime, I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who read my nanoprep stories, the 0th draft of Verified and my Fortnightlies.

Your feedback and support has meant a lot and has helped me hone my skills. It means a lot to me to know that people are entertained by this obsessive hobby of mine.

Right now I'm a better writer than I've ever been. And I intend to get even better.