NaNoWriMo – Failure, or Secret Success?

I did not write 55,000 words on one book in November.

I do not feel bad about this at all. In fact, I think NaNoWriMo ended up being a great success for me. Let me walk you through why, with no rationalization on my part (I hope).

The book, ScapeGoat (whose name must die) lasted until mid-November, until I discovered I was writing it from the wrong perspective. The character needed to be in a different place in his life for the story I had in mind to work. His relationship with the second lead (good names for describing the functions of characters are hard to find) had to begin in a different way to evolve how I wanted it to evolve. So 7300 words are thrown out. I start the book again, and as of today have 74 pages, nearly 18.000 words completed. These are better words than the previous 7300.

I do not regret (entirely) the false start. Without it, I would not have the book I’m currently working on, and will finish. And I’ve learned a few things about how I like to write, and how I don’t.

Outlines = Happier Writer

I begin this book just the way I said I did, back in late October – no idea other than a very basic theme and genre. What I’m working on now conforms to both of those early parameters, kinda, but not slavishly. From that perspective, it’s a little disappointing since I very much wanted to write a horror novel the way horror novels were written when I was growing up – there’s a premise, there’s people what get frightened and killed by stuff, there’s a terrible climax that makes no real logical sense and is only there because the writer wrote himself into a corner and forgets that magical happenings with no precedence or preparation for the audience feel like cop-outs. I wanted all of this.

Instead, I’m writing something a little weirder than I wanted to, a little more occult, and maybe something a little more like what I’ve written before, which is disappointing to late October Kent. December Kent is quite happy with it, though. It proceeds at a decent clip. Some other human beings might want to read it someday.

Had I proceeded to write it without a deadline, I would have outlined much more extensively. My outlining work would have involved drawing lots of circles, and filling out pads of paper with notes. I do not like long blocks of text in outlines (that’s what the actual book writing is for). My outlining sheets look superficially like screenplays, with little jots of description and blocks of conversation. I didn’t do any of that for ScapeGoat. And so, 7300 words in, it was trashed. It may be that more stringent ahead of time outlining would have saved me the trouble of those words.

But it doesn’t matter. NaNoWriMo was a tool that I used to force myself to generate a story idea. It turns out to not be ideal for my style of work. Good to know. I could have forced myself to write about 4000 words a day (16 pages, generally) and finish the book on time. While entertaining family for Thanksgiving, while finishing term papers, while still trying to outline while I wrote. So I didn’t. Like I said, NaNoWriMo was a tool, and one that no longer fit the task I was attempting to perform.

I did not succeed at NaNoWriMo, but for me, NaNoWriMo was a success.


One response to “NaNoWriMo – Failure, or Secret Success?

  1. NaNoWriMo helped me push past the first five pages.

    One of the things I’ve missed about writing since college has been a sense of competition. Back then, there was a goal every week– to have something more interesting than the other guys done by Thursday’s open mic night. Post college, as my writing buddies got distracted by other things, it felt more and more like I was writing in a vacuum. Seeing that word count go up every day gave me just enough purpose to get past the point where my novel was only an idea. It’s now something more tangible.

    Thanks for going slow enough in the beginning to give me a taste of accomplishment, Kent! Now that I remember what it’s like, I just have to find some way to keep it up.

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