If there’s one thing I’ve finally learned about myself, it’s that when I make a commitment to do something, I usually do it. The problem is that it takes quite a bit of time and coaxing before I’m able to make that commitment.
Where I Started
When I committed to completing NaNoWriMo last year, I went into it with a pretty loose interpretation of what it meant to write fifty thousand words of a novel. While I gave myself rules—for example, editing didn’t count toward my word count (i.e. they had to be new words), and all the words needed to be written in service to the project I’d defined for myself—it didn’t matter if those words moved the story forward. Anything I wrote that had anything to do with the story I was writing, including character bios, outlines, setting descriptions, counted. When I felt stuck, I allowed myself to jump to another scene. When I couldn’t think of a scene to write, I moved to character backstory. The result? Fifty thousand words of… something. It was disconnected in a lot of ways and only partially resembled a novel. But those thirty days of absolute commitment to writing were probably the happiest days I had during the disaster that was 2020.
I’d like to tell you that I followed through on my subsequent commitment to revise that novel, polish it, query, it.. well, you know the drill. My ultimate goal for it is to land a new agent and a traditional publisher. I didn’t achieve any of that. Instead, I spent most of 2021 floundering, doubting the story, finding a way to re-tell it then returning to the original plan. When November 2021 came around I had no plans to do NaNoWriMo again because I still hadn’t finished my project from the year before.
Then I thought, so what if it’s the same project? I still had plenty of new words to write—at least 50k. And this time, I have a much clearer idea of how I want to tell the story and what’s happens within it.
I entered this year’s NaNoWriMo with the same set of rules as last year: Basically, only new words count. Since many of the scenes I wrote last year might work with the new incarnation of this story, the potential for a lot of cutting/pasting/editing is there. But I don’t want that to get in the way of my true goal, which is to actually complete this novel, that is, I want the beginning, middle, and end fleshed out by the end of the month, knowing that there will still be much work to do in December and beyond.
How it’s Going
I also added a new rule, though it’s much looser. This time around, I’ve got a solid outline for at least the first act and a little bit of the second. As such, I’m trying to write each scene in sequence. Heading into week two, I have a finished first act and now, I’m writing the first couple of scenes in act two. I feel a bit shakier this week than I did during the first week because, within days, I won’t have that outline to rely on. By shaky, I don’t mean that I won’t continue, I only mean that I might find myself in a place where I need to jump around more and devote more time to outlining (remember, those words count!) rather than straight writing.
That’s okay. I’ve got a plan.
Summarizing My First Act
With a roughly finished first act, I have enough of the story written so that it’s very easy for me to lose track of where I’m at. I’m writing a traditional mystery, so that means I need to remember the characters I’ve introduced, the clues I’ve sprinkled in, et cetera. Where is the story so far?
I’m easily overwhelmed in general, and novel writing is no different. When there’s an unwieldy amount of information and details to wrangle, my mind gets fuzzy and I lose my way. I don’t know how to explain it, but maybe it happens to you, too. In spite of the fact that I’ve already written and published two full-length mysteries, I can’t seem to figure out how to do it again.
As I was nearing the end of the first act, I decided that this week, part of my writing time would consist of reading what I’ve written so far and summarizing each scene so that I can see at a glance the points I need to keep track of, whether it be characters, plants, payoffs, or whatever. These words count toward my daily NaNoWriMo word count (another new rule), but I’ve also been writing new words as well so I can keep moving the story forward.
The summary is mainly bullet points, but I can already see how it will make my revision process much easier and it will help me figure out the scenes I need to write as I move on to my second and third acts. It serves as much as a guide of where I’ve been as it does a map to where I can potentially go.
Why So Many Rules?
You might be thinking, wow, Holly sure does like rules. And you’re right, I do. Rules help me keep my commitment. If a more flexible approach works for you, then go with that. Don’t give my process a second thought, the important thing is to develop your own process.
That, more than anything, has been the key to my progress in several areas of my life this year. Learning, accepting, and honoring the way my brain works. Work within my limitations to define and work toward my goals, knowing that enjoying the process is where the joy of creativity is really at.
There is no doubt in my mind that I won’t finish NaNoWriMo with at least fifty thousand words this year, assuming nothing disastrous happens in my life. To ensure this, I write more words than I need to each day, knowing that there are days where I won’t be able to meet my required word count as Thanksgiving gets closer.
I’ve been participating in Sisters in Crime’s near-daily write-ins at noon and 5 (PST). These have added structure to my day, and while I know I could get the work done without them, the camaraderie and the shared sense of purpose, are powerful motivations for me.
Ultimately, however, as the words flow out of me each day, I feel lighter, as if they were somehow weighing me down and now, I’m setting them free. And I’m more confident than I’ve been in years that I’ll be able to complete this book and begin the query process. We’ll see how it goes from there.