NaNoWriMo and me

It’s that time of year again. People on my flist are starting to talk about NaNo. Every year, it seems, November is just the wrong month for me to dive into a heavy-duty writing project. Not because of holidays or anything; for me, Thanksgiving weekend is typically just a four-day vacation where I can do as I please. But some years, life challenges (like looking for a job) have gotten in the way. In others, NaNo doesn’t work out because I’m not in a position vis-a-vis a story I’m writing to plunk out 50K new words–for example, if I’m editing a nearly-completed manuscript, it needs more words like I need swiss cheese for brains. Usually, though, I just don’t have story inside me that I can coax 50,000 words out about, not in that short a span of time.

And last year, I had just finished the final episode of my 41-episode fan fiction story on October 31st and was too tired to plunge right into NaNoWri-MoRE.

But, prior to all that, the coming of NaNo only inspired me to shrug and then grumble about how “the rules of NaNo themselves just seem a bit ridiculous to me!” Starting a new story, fresh, and pulling 50,000 words of it out of your head in thirty days like a crazed maniac? Yeah, sure; assuming you have a fruitful enough idea that can be sustained the entire month, you then spend the next year trying to figure out if there’s actually really a novel in that gobbly-gook you wrote. Word counts just don’t equal progress in my style of writing.

Well, they don’t.

But what I’ve learned over the years from my flist is that the rules of NaNo are less important than the social energy surrounding the event itself. Your friends are participating, they’re journaling about their progress and their writing process during that time, and you just want to go out and play with them. So you make NaNo your own by breaking the rules strategically. Like committing to only 30,000 words. Or writing fan fiction. Or working on a story you already started months ago. Or working on multiple stories, none of which would ever total 50,000+ words by themselves. Or just saying, “I will spend an hour a day doing nothing but plunking out new, fresh words, regardless of the actual word count.”

The year I actually “won” NaNo, I was in the middle of my lengthy fan fiction story that averaged about 14,000 words per episode, and I used NaNo to write rough drafts for three new episodes, which technically isn’t a “novel”, even of the fan-fiction variety. but between my discarded story-bits from the episodes and the three rough drafts, I “won” NaNo (and then I spent the next month doing an “un-Nano” where I trimmed down those rough drafts of their excess words into postable episodes of my fic).

This year, I have a work-in-progress original fic that is (a) in an early enough stage for word counts to help, rather than hinder, and (b) is developed enough that I have some idea what to write about, and (c) that is in dire need of me just buckling down and banging on it. Ironically, I will also be in San Francisco for Thanksgiving, so those days will be busier than usual, but I don’t see myself running around with friends and family all day long for four days straight. I could, potentially, do something NaNo-ish. Maybe not 50,000 words NaNo-ish, but something. And I kind of want to, ’cause I haven’t played NaNo for four years now.


Main characters are my muses, the spark that drives my desire to write a story. One reason I have such difficult time starting a new story is I don’t know my main character well enough to feel that necessary passion for them, yet. It’s a catch-22, because you can’t feel passion for them until you start writing, and write long enough to find something in them that sparks your passion, but if you can’t write until you feel passion, well…. That’s why I have to find other ways to motivate myself to write until that passion can take over. In the case of my old novel, my early writing was simply a way to distract myself from my doctoral dissertation. That story started out as a big, fluffy soap opera with no particular plot or lead character. And then, gradually, one of the characters emerged as someone who could carry my interest in the story herself.

Different case with my fan fiction epic. I developed a passion for the character while watching a television show–an unanalyzable fascination and emotional investment that demanded I continue to tell his story when there was no more television show to tell it.

The issue with my new story is that I don’t have a muse yet to motivate me. So I rely instead on the obligation to do these weekly updates and to send them to my writing coach, whom I am paying, to be a substitute motivation. And of course, there’s also that deep down hope that I will reach a place where I am writing with passion, and the belief that I can get there if I keep pounding at it long enough.

But so far, I am un-aMused. I have all these characters, and none yet is emerging as the character that sustains my interest in the story. I suppose that, so far, none of them is emotionally screwed-up enough to be interesting. Not that I think that’s the definition of “interesting.” It’s just, looking at my own track record, that’s the sort of character that gets under my skin–infinitely vulnerable, emotionally volatile, angry, and with major parental issues. Don’t ask me why. Those are not words that describe me, just what I’m drawn to. Which…okay, let’s just skip past the psychoanalysis of yours truly.