I began blogging in May 2010, and as I made my rounds through writerly blogs, I kept coming across a mysterious acronym: NaNoWriMo. Unparsable and unpronounceable, I Googled it. Excitement vibrated over my skin when I found the explanation. Fifty thousand words in thirty days? A true mega-writing experience. Less than 2K per day? Who couldn’t do that? I had a shiny new idea bouncing around my brain and decided to save it for the big event. I’d always been a “pantser,” but I spent hours from July to October plotting, character sketching, rearranging scenes, analyzing plot arcs, and anything else I could do without “cheating” by starting the actual writing.
When I signed up in July, however, I didn’t calculate the enormity of my other November responsibilities. As a part-time student with a part-time job, I thought I would have plenty of time to sit down every day at my computer and churn out the requisite 1,667 words. Finals wouldn’t be until the second week of December, so final papers wouldn’t be due either. The majority of the work for my big fall project would be front-loaded and finished before Halloween, and I would only need an hour here and an hour there in November.
Alas, no. I miscalculated. Horribly.
My writing class took the majority of my time that semester, and our final portfolios were due a week after NaNo ended. My work project took much longer than expected, spilling well into November. By November 20, I only had 21.5K words written for NaNoWriMo. Fate had spoken, and I resigned myself. I would not reach the ranks of the cool NaNo elite for 2010.
Although I accepted my fate, I still wanted to do my best.
As Thanksgiving break approached, I buckled down, put my nose to the grindstone, and hauled out every other cliché metaphor for hard work I could find. I decided to wait to do revisions for my writing class, and my big work project was close to finished. I found the time. I still had the energy. And the goal of reaching 50K no longer added pressure. I resolved to do the best I could in the 10 remaining days and have fun while doing it.
On November 21, I wrote 4K. On November 22, I wrote 2.2K. By the end of November 23, I had 33.5K. And that’s when Thanksgiving break began.
By the end of the week, the underdog had fought and won. I even finished early, passing the 50K mark on the 27th.
What happened during that week of 30K? Well, admittedly, I haven’t gone back to read it yet, so it could be pure nonsense. But I doubt it. With my hours and days of preparation prior to November 1, I had planned each scene in detail. I knew exactly how everything would play out, and I only had to fill in the details.
Of course, if I had stuck only to my outline, I never would have reached my goal. Subplots cropped up over the course of the month—the saving element of my story. Without them, I probably would have only reached 40K. Plus they’ll give me more to work with once I begin revisions. I realized my main character isn’t the true MC, and I found more depth to the story than I had known was there.
Am I trying to promote plotting over pantsing? No. Everyone has his/her own method that works. Another person may have looked at the 30K deficit and the outline and panicked, feeling constrained by those set goals. On the other hand, I found it a relief. I didn’t have to think as hard to figure out where to go or worry about whether those last 30K were compelling.
My 2010 NaNoWriMo experience changed my approach to writing. I’ve moved along the writing continuum from pantser toward plotter, though I won’t deny my characters’ whims to take me elsewhere. Overall, I call my new approach “Zen and the Art of Novel Writing”: take each writing moment as it comes, relax into the story, and don’t fret over small, missed goals. Mostly importantly, have fun! In the end, the story will come, whether it comes in November or not.