I never officially signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Their website was overloaded on November 1st and wouldn’t let me on. After the first day I was already writing, so it didn’t seem like a good use of my time.
Like so many of the other official things about NaNoWriMo, signing up wasn’t really the point. Writing 50,000 words wasn’t really the point. Finishing a novel in 30 days wasn’t really the point.
The point was to start building something, and to learn from the process. So here’s my breakdown on November 2016, what went right, what went wrong, how I’m feeling now, and a few numbers to hopefully connect my statements with reality.
First, my raw output was 25,988 words, which is less than my goal, but is still about 115 pages double-spaced. My first Masters thesis was about 90 pages long, my second 75; I wrote over 40 pages in 8 hours for my MLS comprehensive exam. I’ve certainly written faster in my life, but this is not just the longest piece of fiction I’ve worked on in my life. Halfway through, this is already the longest document I’ve ever written. It’s not perfect, and entire days’ worth of work are not very good, and most importantly it’s not done. I’m convinced it’s worth finishing, so I feel pretty great about that.
In terms of my work breakdown, I worked 17 of the 30 days in November. I only have daycare 4 weekdays right now; my wife works 5 days a week and my in-laws work more than that. My daughter, perfect and wonderful as all daughters are, is 3 years old and not yet independent enough to play by herself for an hour if I ask her for some time. However, my wife was generous and made sure to protect my time on weekends, so I typically got between 2-4 hours of writing in on a given Sunday afternoon. I also took the day off after the election to feel angry and depressed and to write an ad hominem filled open-letter to Donald Trump. I spent half of the following day writing the much more productive letter that I published on this site, but I also made my quota that day so it counts as a writing day.
Thanksgiving kind of kicked my butt in a different way. Yes, it was only one additional day off away from my computer, but I didn’t write that weekend either. I didn’t even make the attempt. Monday ended up being a 500 word day because I couldn’t get my feet back under me. Tuesday I spent an absurd amount of time doing necessary but exhausting chores– airplane tickets are even harder to buy when you’re spending someone else’s money– and probably wrote around 200 words at the very tail-end of the day. However, those 200 words felt absurdly good.
Mathematically, I didn’t meet my quota for my daily word count. I regularly managed to write 1,600 words a day, and on good days I broke 2,000 words. Bad days where I wrote 500-800 words hurt my average more than I thought, though– only counting the days I worked, I ended up with an average of 1,500 words a day. My first feeling is to chastise myself– 100 words is a mere handful, I can easily write that in a quarter hour. As a person who has spent half his life yelling at his brain– and the other half on his brain yelling back– it’s not a very useful response. If I got 1,500 words a day written for 4 days a week for a year I’d be thrilled! I’d also probably have a few books written. I think the better lesson is that if I write for many days in a row then it feels good and I get things done.
Sundays afternoons were some of my most productive writing days, sometimes resulting in over 2,000 words. I think knowing that someone else was making a sacrifice for me, and knowing that I only had a little bit of time for work, helped. I also didn’t have to worry about soloing my little girl as I got her ready for pre-school, driving her in, and then trying to change my entire mindset as I sat down and stared at a blank screen. It was a short enough time that I didn’t have to worry much about food, exercise, and bathroom breaks either. To apply this lesson, I’m going to try setting aside smaller blocks of writing time as absolute and sacrosanct. As the saying goes, I’ll poop when I’m dead, amIright?
A lot of the things I’ve learned from the last 30 days are things I technically already knew. Life gets in the way of creation. The only way to do something is to stop thinking about it and do it. That angry, confused Twitterbot less than half of voters elected is going to be a grotesque hybrid of Silvio Berlusconi and Warren Harding. I feel better when I get to the gym. Obvious stuff, really. By actually doing the experiment, though, I’ve proved that I don’t have to work obsessively. I just need to work consistently. I don’t have to rewrite every scene until it’s perfect. I need to write every scene, learn from them as I write them, and be prepared for the arduous editing process to come.
This time next year, I’ll have a finished novel. It won’t be published, but if I’m lucky some of my friends will like the first chapter well enough to show it to their agents. If I’m not lucky… I’ve still written a novel about a reluctant teenage supervillain. My life and the world will be immeasurably– in the strictest sense, because good luck measuring this stuff– better for my work. And I’ll have a whole new fictional world to play around in.
Plus, Peter and Tink aren’t even in The Neverworld yet. I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet! WE CAN’T STOP HERE, THIS IS BAT COUNTRY!
Never stop here, friends. Everywhere is Bat Country.