Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Resistance

You NaNoWriMo'ers out there are a week and a half into writing your November novel, and so far I bet it's probably going pretty well for most of you. There were those first couple of days when you started this story -- thrilling, scary as hell, or somewhere in between -- but you got through them okay. You've navigated a few bumps but you've also made some progress. You've probably cheated at least once to go back and read over what you've written, and maybe even tinkered with a few lines. And you may be convinced that because of this you will keep on writing book-length fiction for the rest of the month, if not the rest of your natural life.

Only today or tomorrow or a couple days from now, you'll go to the keyboard, open the novel file, and not want to write anything new. There's this other idea you had, you see, that was so much better. Or you've backread what you've written more than once, tinkered quite a bit, and despite that this story is simply not turning out the way you expected.

It's strange, isn't it? Characters who used to be deep and interesting and fun to hang with suddenly grow a little old and boring. The decision to set the novel in [fascinating place] that seemed so smart now feels a little dumb because you've discovered just how much you don't really know about [fascinating place]. There's that awful plot hole that you didn't see before but you keep braking at or running over. But it's only been a week and a half, and you can scrap these two or three chapters and start over, right?

Writers have different references for this period with the work. We say we're a little blocked, or the honeymoon is over, or the muse is fighting us. We have so many analogies for this point with the work we could probably write a book about them.

The fact is, in most cases, the new and shiny has worn off. What was cool and exciting and kept us at the keyboard until 2 a.m. every night suddenly feels like a job. A job for which there is no paycheck waiting at the end of the week. A job that might be more to way more than we can handle.

Remember the doubt that tried to keep you from writing this book? That almost had you convinced that you couldn't do it. Say hello; it's back. Despite the fact that Halloween is over it's wearing a mask and costume. It isn't interested in treats; it wants only to trick you. It's here to keep you from writing, and what better way that to make you think the work you've done is boring, useless and ultimately worthless?

You don't have to keep writing, of course. You can stop now and start over with another idea. You can take a break from writing for a couple days, maybe a week. You can drop out of NaNoWriMo and promise to do it next year. You can do any of these things; no one will stop you. Certainly not your doubt, because that's exactly what it wants. Like the bully back in school, it's only interested in dumping your work (and your butt) in the nearest trash can.

At present the new and shiny has been long gone from my WIP. I wrote a couple of scenes yesterday that were total yawners. I hated them even as I was writing them. No color, no life, just a whole mess of words that made sense but were about as exciting to read as directions on the back of a shampoo bottle. Try as I might, I couldn't get anything better out on the page. I'm tired of these characters, and I want to do something else. But I have only three chapters left to write, and two and a half weeks until my deadline, and I'll be damned if I'm going to stop now. So I kept writing, got it down on the page, mentally spit on it a few times and finished my writing session. Several hours later, when I opened them back up during my daily editing session, I salvaged what I could and slashed through the rest with a note to rewrite.

Rewrites are fine with me because I know that some days I write nothing but crap. This morning I opened the file and moved on to the next scene, and as it happens I'm writing a lot better today. But even if I wrote another pile of manure this time, I'd do the same thing and keep moving forward until I finish the book. Then, as C.J. Cherryh puts it, I will edit brilliantly.

Writing professionally is an endurance marathon, and this is one of those tough stretches in the process when you find out if you have what it takes to be a successful writer. We don't stop when the new and shiny wears off. Successful writers find ways to avoid or at least stall other ideas distract them from the work. We do whatever we can to shut their door in the face of that no-treats, all-tricks doubt. If something dumps us in a trash can, we climb right back out and keep writing. No matter how much it hurts. No matter how much we don't want to.

So how is it going with your NaNoWriMo? Let us know in comments.


  1. 37,177 words in. I'm guessing my final count will be about 55k before revisions. Plenty of outlining before, plus this is a sequel to my 2007 NaNo project, so I know the main characters very well.

  2. I'm at 224180 words. I'm also still flying high in my writing and hope to keep progressing at 2000 words a day or more. I've had this story in mind for years while I worked on other stories. Now that I've opened the door, the dam has been released and the current won't release me from its grasp. For now at least.

  3. 32,500 so I'm quite pleased. I did this to kickstart a new book, and it's well under way now.
    I've just had editing notes in on a book, so I need to get on with that.

  4. needed this today. as you said I felt brilliant at the begining and now I'm thinking is this boring. I remember an author-I think you- saying each scene should have a purpose and help further the novel along. good advice and yet hard to follow. I felt like the scene I wrote last night was a HUGE yawn. I'm tempting to revise right away. This morning with a clear head I know I shall type on and at the end go back and revise, trash or delete anything that doesnt work. so hard rightnow. Thanks for the motivation


  5. Hit a few snags in the road. Tired of the characters. It's the end of the novella, so I expected as much. Got some great publishing news so I let myself relax a couple of days.

    Now it's back to it with drive and dedication.

  6. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Yes, thanks for this.

    I'm 22K words in and thinking I can't write another word but know better and will do at least 1667 more tomorrow.

    Now if only I could figure out my plot. :-)


  7. I second that last comment: I really needed this today. I'm a little over 2,000 words short of the NaNo target, and really struggling. But, I know it's because I've stopped planning my scenes - in the rush of everyday life I've just been sitting down to write without a plan: and I'm not a very good pantster!

    So, yes, today is the day to go back to basics, plan out my scenes and get them written: and hopefully I can catch up. I'd like to consider myself a 'successful' writer one day, and while that might not mean I get published, what it will mean to me is that I actually finish a project I started.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Today you are my muse. 8o)

  8. At 86k and trying to figure how I managed to not finish it by NOW!!

    Half crap, half gold today; okay, mostly crap and a little gold. Fine. One hundred percent crap. But all it needs is some polishing (see Mythbusters and it will shine up a treat.

  9. 9400 words and it's all crap. Of course, the low word count and crap content could have something to do with all the hours I've been working and the fact that my brain just stops functioning the minute I walk in the door...but maybe it really is just crap and I'm looking for excuses.

    Why do I do this to myself every year?

  10. I am at 28K at the end of this writing day and I am still interested in my character. She has a love interest, a gold mine, goats and there is a side plot of people getting killed and kidnapped. This has actually been the best Nanowrimo ever.

  11. I'm only 17,000+ in, but I couldn't start writing until November 6. I've managed more than 2,000 words each day, and hopefully soon I'll catch up with the goals.

    I'd love to surpass them and actually finish the novel this month, but first things first!

    Can't say I've been blocked... but I do get stuck when I'm not sure what's going to happen next exactly (yes, I had a 6-page SS outline, but it must not have been detailed enough). I'm really liking it right now.

  12. A bit past 30,000 words, and having to slug my inner editor with a hammer periodically. But even when I think I'm writing mediocre prose today, it seems that whenever I look back on the previous days' writing, it ain't so bad.

  13. This is my first time, and I thought I was mad when I registered. Only a little over 11,000 words now, but I'm past two major blocks in the plot, and, after I get over last night's bad sushi, it's back to the saddle.

    I don't expect to write the whole novel, but it's a kick start to a draft.