Illustration by L-Rossfellow.
Over the course of last month, I was steadily writing a novel(la) for Nanowrimo. And I succeeded. The sense of accomplishment hasn’t really sunken in, maybe because I wrote daily, achieving the minimum of 1667 words at a time. I was able to pull it off because of the following:
- My novel did not contain any science-fiction or fantastic elements, nor did it contain any sort of extensive world-building.
- My novel involved characters whom I’ve written a number of stories on, so I did not have to worry much about characterization.
- I outlined whatever I was going to write by the day.
- I kept at it. Even when in doubt, I kept writing and going forward.
The first two items were elementary. I had low expectations of finishing Nanowrimo, so I made it easy for myself. I picked a subject matter I had a lot of background about (anime and manga), and wrote what was essentially “Bakuman but with an all-girl cast”. I borrowed characters from the RPG campaign I used to play, and went at it.
The third item helped me immensely. It’s much, much easier to write if you have an idea of what happens next. I started out with a premise: “high school girl makes friends and they make things together”, then plotted the story out. Maybe it’s a very pedestrian approach, but I’m not confident in my ability to make things up as they go, and I infinitely prefer the satisfaction of finishing what I started than languishing in Things That Could Have Been.
The last item, while not sounding that much, is arguably the most important out of the bunch. You have to keep at it. A novel is a long story that you won’t finish writing in one sitting. Or in two, or three. The first time I leaped into Nanowrimo, I estimated that I could do at least 2000 words every day. That estimate proved to be wrong by the fourth day, and I just stopped and gave up. If you miss your writing schedule, you’ll have to make up for it double the next time, and it snowballs so hard that soon you’ll be swamped in a hopeless quota of words. That’s when you give up. So you don’t give up. I’ve had my days too, where I just sucked it up and banged on the keyboard even when I could barely type out my words.
I also learned one important lesson throughout November. Despite writing for years, I was always caught in that Perfect First Draft syndrome, which kills stories before they reach maturity. I used to write in a way that saw me editing my output right off the bat, because I wanted something good to present for the readers. Well, I’m under no obligation to show anyone my work, but I always wrote as if someone was looking over my shoulder. This is bad, because I am my worst critic, and I often judge my own story to be bad and kill it myself.
But the first draft is always bad. To rebel against this smacks of arrogance, because stories undergo repeated iterations before they become remotely readable or good. With Nanowrimo, I made mistakes. Characters acted out of character, I changed my mind about how the story should proceed, I changed a character’s backstory midway, but I kept moving forward, knowing that I could go back and fix these when I started revising after November.
The thing about Nanowrimo is that the only goal is to “write a 50k word story”. There’s no metric of quality nor judging body who will tell you if your work is good or not. Some people find this bad, as anyone could write anything, but that’s exactly what makes Nanowrimo appealing. By focusing on the goal (50k words by the end of November), you can focus on it (writing words to meet the goal). If you stop to mind if your novel is good, or if your would-be readers would tear it up, then you’ll never finish. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this mindset has led me to the finish line. Don’t get it right. Get it written first.
Of course, with a daily writing quota, I had to make concessions with my time. I had to cut down on my anime, games, reading, and lessened the frequency in which I went out (not that I became a total shut-in, mind you). Surprisingly, I didn’t yearn for any of these activities while I wrote my novel. The beauty with writing a trickle every day is that you still have time to do other things, though it’s a much smaller chunk. I was still able to watch an episode or two before I wrote down 1667 words, or play a game for an hour.
Looking back, I can say that Nanowrimo was a worthwhile undertaking, which helped me mature as a writer. I thought it was impossible, but I didn’t feel that I’ve written 50k words simply because I went slow and steady, not treating it as a race like others would have. I’ve no illusions as to the quality of my output, but at least I’m 50k words ahead of the next person who’s still dreaming about writing a novel. After all, even if you throw it all away, there’s lesson to be learned even in the most dismal of failures.
I don’t know yet if I’ll continue this every year, but we’ll just see. Right now, it’s time to catch up on everything I had put aside!