So this is my ninth year entering NaNoWriMo. In every year but one, I’ve wound up with a novel draft at the end of the month. I only failed to win in 2017 because I came down with the worst flu I’ve ever had, bad enough that I’ve been sure to get a flu shot every year since.
Now, these novel drafts certainly aren’t good novel drafts, but the more recent ones could be made good with lots of revising and editing. Tidepool, the sixth novel I’ve written and the first one that’s going to be published, started life as a NaNoWriMo novel, as did the novel I’m querying now.
I know some writers claim NaNoWriMo is a waste of time. Maybe it is for them, but I’ve always found it to be amazing discipline. And, y’know, I’m going to be a published author because of one of my NaNo novels. I’d say it’s worked out pretty well for me.
Someday I might really cut loose and rant about the people who keep trashing NaNoWriMo. For now, that’s a waste of valuable writing time. I’ll just say this: If you don’t like the idea of it or it doesn’t fit your style, then don’t do it; it’s certainly not the only way to get a novel draft done and you aren’t a bad writer if you don’t work that way. But don’t try to make other writers feel like they’re wasting their time if they try it, ‘K?
I was oddly unprepared for NaNo this year; I had a concept for what I wanted to write but knew very little about what was going to happen. In writer parlance, writing a novel without planning it out first is called “pantsing” (as in “writing by the seat of one’s pants”) as opposed to “planning.” The “planner vs. pantser” debates can turn pleasant writing forums into smoking rage craters, but like most people, I’ve tried both approaches depending on the circumstances. I pantsed my first NaNo novel, but since then have tried to do at least a little bit of planning before November rolls around. Having some kind of roadmap and an idea of who I’m writing about just makes things a little easier for me.
But on Halloween night, I was a bit nervous; I knew Day One was right around the corner and I wasn’t even sure how to start the novel. Oh well. I figured I’d have a glass of wine on Friday night and just start writing.
On Friday afternoon, November 1, I read a Washington Post article about the McKamey Manor. This article might be behind a paywall, but if you google “McKamey Manor,” trust me that you’ll find plenty of stuff to read. Fair warning, though: The stories you find might be horribly triggering for abuse of the mental and physical kind.
By the time I finished the article, I felt like I’d been hit by a thunderbolt: THAT was what I wanted to be writing about. A story started forming in my head with a place like the Manor (run by a guy somewhat like McKamey) at its center. And I had all the “Who, what, where” questions in my head: Who would run something like this? Why would anyone voluntarily let people do that to them? Where would they be doing this, and when? Like, what the hell, man? I was itching to work all that into a novel.
“Well, that’s good,” I told myself. “Open up a Scrivener file and jot down some notes, and that can be your project next year.”
Nah. I wanted to write it now. Within a few hours, I had a main character, an antagonist, and a plot taking shape in my head, which was way more than I had for my previous idea.
In 2011 I committed to doing NaNoWriMo two days before it began, having never written a novel before. I’d had a novel idea kicking around in my head for years but had only jotted down a few fragments up until November 2011. And I won. I figured I’d never top that feat for sheer impulsiveness.
Writing a novel whose idea, characters, and plot I came up with on November 1st? Yeah, I’d say I topped it. I’ve hit over 10K words four days in, so I think I made the correct choice. And I’ve got a really good feeling about this one.
P.S. I didn’t get into Pitch Wars again. Meh. This time I wasn’t as crushed as I was last year. In addition to NaNoWriMo I’ve got Borderlands Boot Camp stuff to work on and will possibly have edit work to do for Tidepool, so I’m going to be pretty busy already. That being said, while I might apply to be a PW mentor next year, I’m pretty sure I’m done entering contests as a mentee. I’ll continue to attend workshops where and when I can and hunt for an agent the old-fashioned way: by querying.