Three years ago I decided to write a novel for NaNoWriMo. It was an idea I’d had milling about my head for a while, and I thought it would do me good as I’d been working on my “main” novel (the formerly-urban-now-high-fantasy one) for so long. I had a basic plot mapped out, as well as characters and setting.
I got about four days in before hitting a wall.
In retrospect, I think my issue was that I can’t write a novel without any planning, but nor can I plan without writing. No doubt part of the reason I’ve taken so long on my main novel (which always goes by this name in my head as I’ve yet to come up with a title and it’s the story that’s been in my mind the longest) is that I vascillate between planning stages and writing stages. Although I thought I had my NaNo story pretty well planned-out, in the end I didn’t understand my protagonist well enough to really know where she’d go. I’ve still got around 8000 words of that novel and haven’t made any progress, though I do think it is a story worth writing one day.
Ironically, I think the setup of NaNoWriMo is something I could benefit from in another sense. I am very self-critical when I write. Often I’ll sit down to write and get only a few sentences out before getting upset about things that, frankly, don’t belong in the story but don’t need to be removed until well into editing. Last week I wrote the sentence, “Her hands sticky with dough, she shoved a slightly doughly log into her daughter’s arms.” That’s a bad sentence. I know it’s a bad sentence. But I also know it’s okay to have that there if it keeps me moving forward with the story.
It took a real effort of will to even write “doughy” so soon after “dough” just so I could keep going and not get stuck trying to find another word. But what I’d normally do is sit there flipping through a thesaurus till I found the right synonym for “sticky” (never mind that there’s at least a 50% chance that sentence would be completely removed in further drafts) or, if my motivation was running low, ALT + TAB to Facebook.
A setup like NaNoWriMo forces you to accept those rubbish sentences for what they are – rubbish sentences that nevertheless help you to move the story forward and can be removed when the story’s actually been written. It ensures that you get the bones of the story down before nitpicking diction. I’m not going to write a new novel for NaNoWriMo this year, partly because of my utter failure last time and partly because I’m really wanting to get to work on this story, but I’m taking what I can from its basic premise and using it to my advantage.
In its current form, my main novel is around a 60k word urban fantasy. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’m turning that into a high fantasy, and I would expect it to end up at around 100k words, given the general standard for YA high fantasy. My goal for this month is to get that ~100k word draft into a cohesive format. What this means for me is that everything is told in third-person multi-POV limited perspective (for a while I was writing in the first person, until I realised that that left huge chunks of the story untold), it’s all set in the secondary world, and no one makes a Harry Potter allusion.
I think this is doable. A good chunk of my old draft will slot neatly into the new format, because it was set in the secondary world already. Much more can be appropriated, with the necessary modifications. This leaves me probably around 50k words to actually write – which is, of course, the word count for NaNoWriMo.