NaNo 2017: Retrospective

This years NaNo was the hardest I’ve done yet.

Partly due to the constraints I set myself (write a publishable novel; not require too much large-scale editing; complete the entire draft beginning-to-end by day 30, even if it’s not 50K) and partly because of the genre (magical realism, heavy on the realism).

Since I wasn’t writing in a secondary world, or in the present, I got side-tracked much more than usual by attempting to remember/research what a given area was like during the time period (August 2003, the big Northeastern Blackout). I had just moved to Toronto then, so I wasn’t hugely familiar with the city at the time the novel takes place. I tried to balance this by setting scenes in areas that I knew well at the time, or areas that I know well now that haven’t changed much. But it was still much more mental energy required than my usual “make shit up as I go because it’s my world dammit” methodology.

And that applies to the plot, as well; I couldn’t rely on the tried-and-true “AND THEN THE NINJAS ATTACKED” fix when I got stuck or bored, because I knew that it was only shifting the problem to the editing phase, and I hate editing enough already. “Fix it in post!” was my mantra during Embers and Ignition and when I think about those problems awaiting me I feel a bit sick inside.

Speaking of sick, I also got ill during November and lost five productive days because of it. Because of course.

I spent most of the month under par. Sometimes I would get inspired and bang out 4500 words before running out of steam but there were quite a few days where there were no words whatsoever and I sat in front of a screen all morning with nothing to say. I tried my best to battle the word debt by spreading it out rather than trying to double-up the day after a missed session, which worked okay but not great when the next wave of problems hit.

The Week 2 Weepies I was well-prepared for, what with my Thors Day challenge, but in a weird twist, my Week 2 was super productive and Week 3 was a pit of despair with the walls closing in.

I didn’t think I was going to make the 50K, and although my primary goal this year was a complete draft, not a number count, I did get wrapped up in the word count fervour. And it was discouraging as fuck.

Added to that was a situation I have never found myself in before: I didn’t have enough plot.

The joke has always been that the stories I write end up 3x longer than my initial estimates; whether because I am terrible at estimations or pruning subplots is unclear, but it’s very established. Grace and Lydia both had a good chuckle at my predicament due to that history.

Since I’ve always had to deal with subplots that grow like magical briar patches, I really didn’t know how to deal with Blackout Odyssey‘s singular problem of not enough plot to carry it to novel length. I honestly had empty hands for several days while I tried to think of a solution; all I knew was that if I just added ninjas or padded my wordcount excessively it would just shift the problem down the road.

NaNo’s supports are focused around achieving a daily/monthly goal in words, not story completion, and once I was in debt for two weeks in a row those supports turned from motivating to taunting. The pressure got to me and was wrecking my ability to concentrate.

I decided to cheat.

At the start of Week 4 I copied a chunk from another unfinished story into the bottom of my text file to bring me up roughly to par. I was still under, but only a little bit; enough that it lit a fire under me instead of consuming my inspiration. I did 2500+ word days consistently. Freed from thinking about my debt, my creativity returned. I went back to scenes that had bothered me and rewrote them, giving them more depth and also seeing more opportunity for wackiness and jokes and action. The briar started to bloom. I crossed the finish line on Thursday, November 29th, writing The End to my main subplot and getting past the 50K mark.

And I had a whole day left.

The cheating didn’t bother me from moral point of view, but it did leave me feeling a little unfulfilled. Unfulfilled but with a weight off my shoulders, and an day unaccounted for.

While I ended up with enough on my main plot to justify calling it “a novel”, I’d realized there still was something missing, and I had the creativity to figure out the solution: A Meanwhile Back At The Ranch subplot from the love interest’s point of view. Fortunately I had marked the locations where I’d felt that the narrative should switch with [*Insert subplot here] (which is a tag Grace used once upon a time and now you know the origin of my blog’s name) so I could write the subplot separately once I’d figured out what was needed.

Morning of the 30th, I locked myself in my workroom with a large mug of coffee, a goal, and a deadline. I deleted the unfinished short story from the end of my text file, knocking me back to 47K–a little disheartening–and then I tackled the subplot.

I did about 3300 words that morning, clearing the 50K bar again, and also completing the its-own-story subplot, getting to write ‘the end’ twice in one week, which feels amazing. I’ve got a finished draft 0 that I can throw into a drawer until it’s fermented enough to edit, and most astounding of all, I have no unfinished novels hanging over my head.

(I mean, I am already back to editing Curve of the Corridor–hoping to get that to beta readers for the end of the year. There’s the query letter for Ashes and eventually the revisions for Embers and Ignition; so there is still plenty to do.) But since that very first NaNo in 2010 I’ve had an unfinished novel dragging at me, tainting each new story start with a “I really should finish the other thing before I start something new….” hit of guilt and now that’s gone.

There’s an appreciable weight off my shoulders.

Bring on 2018, and congrats to everyone who did NaNo2017!

 

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