On Completing NaNoWriMo Without Finishing the Novel

I did it. I completed the NaNoWriMo. I kept my butt in the chair three to five hours a day, every day, throughout the month of November and tippity-tapped away on my keyboard in hopes of producing an assemblage of words that somewhat resembled a novel. And I succeeded. Sort of. Well, I got this:

Impressive, right?

Impressive, right?

But that’s not all! I also completed 52,000 words of my novel’s first draft! I really surprised myself. I was ecstatic! The story was good. The characters were engaging. Everything was far better than I would have expected. But, I was not DONE. Turns out, probably because of the three points-of-view that I insisted upon having in my story, the first draft is probably going to end up being more like 70,000 or 80,000 words. So, while I was feeling (justifiably) accomplished and capable, it was really not time to celebrate yet.

Now, what I should have done after completing the NaNoWriMo challenge was just to keep on keepin’ on. I should have cranked it out until the first draft was finished. But I did not. Instead, I said to myself, “Well Starr, pat on the back. You did it! Now it’s time for a break!”

Hint for writers: DO NOT TAKE A BREAK. It seems like a great idea. Just a couple of days, and then you’ll get back to work. But those couple of days come and go, and pretty soon it’s almost Christmas, and your kid is making a Christmas list that includes impossible-to-obtain items like “a foot of snow”, and your Mom is trying to get you to decide between yeast rolls or hot cross buns for the family holiday dinner, and your dog chews up her dog bed leaving a shredded foam disaster zone in your living room. And you think, I might as well get through Christmas before I get back to work on the old novel. But then Christmas passes, along with all its extra demands and stresses and delights, and then comes a day when you think it might be nice to just sit down and tap out a few words on the novel. So you prepare a nice, hot cup of tea, clear off your desk, dust off your laptop and open up the document. You stare at the words on the page for about half an hour as the realization slowly dawns on you that you can’t remember where you were going with this! There are minor characters in here- with NAMES- who you have no recollection of creating. The main character is in the middle of doing something completely daft, and you can’t remember WHY you put him in that situation- or how it was supposed to turn out. Ultimately, you resolve to go back and read the entire 52,000 words- something you’re NEVER supposed to do in the middle of the first draft- to recover your grasp on this plot. Uggggh.

This was my first NaNo. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got to meet several other writers in my area. I got a free pass to go to my favorite brewery two to three nights a week (because the environment- and, ok, the beer- got the words flowing for me), and I wrote 52,000 words that were at least somewhat cohesive. I’m really glad I did it. I will probably do it again. But next time, in order to avoid the thing that happened this year, I will do it a little differently. I’ll either commit myself to writing a novel whose draft can actually be completed in 50,000 words- something with a simpler plot, perhaps, OR I will just throw the thirty days out the window and demand of myself that I keep doing my butt-in-chair time until the novel is finished. NO BREAKS. Not even for Christmas menu planning. Not even for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead (which, by the way, I’m still sad about).

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. For one thing, I actually did an awesome job. I just didn’t do a complete job. But this isn’t a widget factory or a doctoral thesis. This is art. Completion can wait a little bit. I’d like to be a real professional and be one of those writers with daily quotas who “writes every day, no matter what”, but you know what? I’m getting there. Back off, dude. At least now I know I can do butt-in-chair time for approximately 2,000 words a day, every day. The habit will form eventually. And for another thing, if I beat myself up about it, I’ll be too depressed and self-loathing to ever finish the damn thing. And that won’t do. Live and learn and all that.

Well, I’m off to review those 52,000 words. Wish me luck!


One thought on “On Completing NaNoWriMo Without Finishing the Novel

  1. Pingback: My Second NaNoWriMo Win, YAY!! | Leslie Starr O'Hara's Blog

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