Hey everyone! I’m writing this instead of doing the vlog thing. I may convert it into a video eventually, but time and circumstances made it a bit difficult to do a recording.
This post will be broken down into four parts:
1.) My experience with NaNoWriMo
2.) What I learned from it
3.) What next?
4.) My final impression of the NaNoWriMo experience from my perspective
I feel like these are all very important things to make a record of so without further ado, let’s get on with it!
2019 was the first year I decided to take on NaNoWriMo. 2018 was the first time I’d even heard of it, but I was really not in a state of mind to make an attempt. It felt overwhelming and like being constricted to a deadline would hamper my ability to write something of quality. That and I’m prone to anxiety as a remnant of my tumultuous high school experience. Yeah, it’s been a while, but I’ve yet to really calm down over the concept of imposed deadlines. I can keep them when I set them for myself (aka post schedule), but I have trouble when there’s an “authority” figure involved or “competition” on the line.
For anyone unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo it stands for National Novel Writing Month (aka November). It’s a good-spirited “competitive” writing event hosted by nanowrimo.org. The challenge is to write 50k words during the month of November. You don’t win anything and you’re really only competing with your own willpower so it’s completely voluntary and really should be a zero stress affair. I finally saw it as such this year and tried my best to shut down the overzealous competitive side of me I despise so much. If there’s any semblance of competition, I have to win. Which is strange because I tend to be pretty laid back. The good part is you’re not against anyone. You just have to write 50k words. Easy.
To me, 50k isn’t that big of a deal. I write half that every month anyway, so putting in the extra time to double it didn’t seem that out of the realm of possibility. So what ended up happening?
Early in October, I signed up to the site basically stating that I wanted to participate. At first, it was going to be a Q’taxian standalone. I had a plot kinda sketched out, but it felt weird. The Q’taxians is a series and while I do intend on turning it into books in the near future, writing a stand-alone novella seems to either defeat the purpose or ultimately serve no purpose at all.
As October crept on, I kept trying to fish a unique plot out of my brain. I ended up with a title: Like Clockwork. Original, I’m sure, but I loved the cover art I came up with.
Right then was when a plot started coming together. Arthur Arcwright was a hermit after the death of his family so he turned to the one thing he was good at to make sure no one else would have to be as lonely as he was. He built automatons and gave them out virtually for free or with little commission. Eventually, he built one as a challenge to himself. He wanted to make one as human as possible which, in that universe, was taboo as all hell and borderline illegal. He makes this machine, not expecting much, but the more he talks to it and the more it interacts with him and other people, the more human it becomes. It becomes so human that Arthur begins to have feelings for it which we all know is wrong as hell. The conflict of the story basically becomes Bicentenial Man in that the automaton wants to become as human as possible so it can love Arthur like a normal human being while Arthur is seeking to augment himself into di immortales machina. Eventually, they become so crippled that they realize they’ve both gone too far and just spend the rest of their lives together not worrying about what the world thinks about them.
Not bad, if you ask me. A bit complicated, but actionable. I wasn’t completely alien to romance as a concept, but writing a weird romance seemed about where I’d end up if I were to tackle the genre.
But… Is that what I ended up writing?
Like Clockwork became something entirely different on the eve of November 1st, the day I was to begin writing it. Suddenly there was a new character. Oliver Orel. And he was the polar opposite of Arthur Arcwright. For a slipt second, Oliver was a human friend who helped Arthur escape his unhealthy obsession with his automaton and becoming a machine himself. Then Oliver became a love interest. Then, all at once, Oliver was dead under suspicious circumstances. See where this is going? He gifted Arthur an automaton posthumously. An automaton that would serve as an important part of solving the mystery of his death.
Well dammit, now we have a mystery on our hands… I’m not equipped to write mysteries!
So on that 11th hour, I whipped out Campfire and began plotting.
I wrote 10k words that first day and figured I could keep that pace and finish within a week or two… but wait. There are badges. NaNoWriMo awards you progress badges for words written and consecutive days of writing. Okay, so I had to slow down to hit the 21 Day badge. Why? Because I need all of the badges. I have to get the achievements no matter how pointless they are. I must have the badges. So, 10k a day wouldn’t really work. It wasn’t going to work whether I wanted to do it or not as life was steadily going out of control at the same time as I was attempting this NaNoWriMo thing…
As soon as I hit the clue phase of the mystery, out came Campfire again. More logging and scrambling of info because there was NO way my brain was going to keep track of it all. This was around when I started losing personal steam. I believe it was about half way into the 50k word goal. Once I had that all sorted, I got back to writing a segment that ended up getting rewritten multiple times. Needless to say, I somehow still managed to net positive with my word count every day.
I never went into this thing with a planned outcome. I had no idea who the culprit was until about half way when they came out of the woodwork like “Hi yes, I killed Oliver.” to which I replied “Why thank you, good sir. I shall now be sure to seed evidence of your deceit.” This didn’t prove all that difficult as it wasn’t like a brand new character showed up to fill a need. The guy was already vaguely in the plot. At this point I was feeling pretty proud of this project. I had at least two red herrings and a very reasonable, but not directly decipherable, culprit. Yes. This was shaping up to becoming something half way decent.
Around the 30k mark, I was starting to flag. The momentum was gone and I was starting to think this story had no place being 50k words. I started noticing an increase in fluff just to hit a daily word count and a deadline. It was like spinning my wheels in mud. The words were rolling, but the story was going nowhere. Eventually, this lead to losing the plot, shifting the tone, getting angry at my lack of plotting and generally feeling like shit about the entire project.
I tend to talk a lot about feelings and reactions. That’s just part of my writing, but it was getting out of hand. In order to meet a net positive word count every day, I was really digging into Arthur’s psyche about the whole situation. Except… I’d already done that once or twice before. Doing it once, I’m totally down for. Doing it twice? Well… Did anything change? Doing it three times? Okay, now it’s just filler. Time to stop.
And stop I did.
I had just gotten to the big reveal when I crossed 50k. Upon finally updating my NaNoWriMo word count, collecting my certificate and avatar laurel, I stopped.
I dropped “Like Clockwork” like the hot mess it was.
Which brings us to the next point of this post:
A lot, if I’m being honest. I learned a lot about myself and my writing habits. I’ve always been in the camp of “if you don’t feel like writing, don’t”. If you want to play around with plot, sketch some stuff out, do some brainstorming, go for it. But don’t force yourself. Take a break, step back. You’ll be happier with the result when you come back to it later.
The web series serves as a live record of my mood when I’m writing. I can tell very quickly whether I wanted to be writing or if I was writing because I had to, because the mood will be drastically different, the quality will be sub-par, and the plot will largely be lost. This is why I’m more than happy to not force my hand if my hand isn’t willing to write. I have personally learned that I vastly regret everything I write when I’m not in the mood to write. Then future me has to go back and fix it all so it’s at least passable. More work than it’s worth, in my opinion.
This mentality was very much reinforced throughout NaNoWriMo. When I didn’t feel like writing, but forced myself to anyway (because word counts, deadlines, and badges), the quality was awful. And let’s face it, every first draft is rough, but we’re talking truly awful writing. Things not even worthy of existing in a lowly first draft. The tire spinning, the plot losing, the muddling around blindly… Ugh. No. Never again. The second I was nearing the end of this saga, I realized that I had no choice but to tear this entire work apart if it ever had any hope of being published in any way shape or form. Heck, before it ever went to an editor. It was that bad. That misguided and confused. A shame.
I eventually reasoned out that the plot I’d put together was fitting of a novella, not a novel. That made me feel a lot better and also made it more feasible to bring to fruition alongside the web series. I hit 50k for the sake of hitting 50k, but I knew that unless I changed the plot, this wasn’t worth 50k.
Another thing I came to realize was my writing style. I became very aware of how character-driven I am. I went into this not knowing my characters. I had no idea who Arthur Arcwright or Oliver Orel was. Reliant and Cogwell? They just showed up… Why the heck are they? I mean, besides surface level characteristics. What were their drives? Desires? Needs? Wants? What were their views on the world? What were their ethics? Who, exactly, were they besides a name and a body type? I ended up fleshing a lot of this out as I wrote, but it was clear I had no idea who they were. I had never spent any time with them before this project. I didn’t get to know them before putting them to work. I had no idea how they’d really handle different situations until they came up and sometimes they’d look at me like “Well, what am I supposed to do here?” and I didn’t have an answer.
Let me put this in contrast with The Q’taxians. I know these characters inside and out. I can put them in any situation and tell you exactly how they’d behave. Heck, you could name any set of characters and any scenario and I can tell you exactly what would happen. Heck let’s put one together real quick for the lolz.
Characters: Saari and Jeron
Characteristics: Saari is a void witch bound to Lord Qaitax which makes her incredibly powerful but also directly affected by Qaitax’s own strength. She is technically”blind” and can only see “clearly” in void tainted zones. She comes from a cave system on a dead world and has only ever experienced stony surfaces. She has no concept of lawn and the act of mowing it. Her species was prone to wild genetic mutations due to such close exposure to the Void before their inevitable extinction. She is the only surviving member of her species but did not escape the genetic mutations they were all susceptible to. As such, Saari’s eyes have grown from her head into calcified horns of sorts. Hence her blindness, but thanks to Qaitax, she can see things through a lens of the Void. She does not perceive color or shapes the same way the ordinary person would and she can look directly into the Void at will. She recently traveled to earth with Sylus and has since lost her connection to Lord Qaitax since his merger with Sylus into one being. She is scared, confused, and very alone.
Jeron is a self-trained chef with parental issues. When his mother was sick, he gave up his education to take care of her so his father could continue running the family Diner. Something he also dedicated much of his life to. He despises his lack of formal education and resents his father’s lack of understanding of how important his high school diploma was to him. Since he’s been steeped in the Void since the Rift opened, he’s slowly accrued a low level of magical manipulation in the form of sound waves. Jeron is an audiomancer in training. He’s in a relationship with Sylus Synclaire. He’s informally adopted Sylus’ son, Daniel for reasons he doesn’t really understand.
Dynamic: Saari doesn’t know Jeron very well and Jeron is intimidated Saari. Their only connection is Sylus/Qaitax. Jeron is in a relationship with Sylus, Qaitax is Saari’s guardian. Sylus and Qaitax are two separate consciousnesses sharing a single body.
Task: Mowing the lawn with an antique manual mower.
“I do not understand the necessity of this activity…”
“I don’t know why Sylus sent you with me…”
“What is the importance of reducing the height of low growing plant life?”
Jeron bit his lower lip, afraid to answer in any way that would prolong the conversation. “Grass can get really tall and hide nasty things inside of it. Like spiders and bugs. You can get bit or stung trying to get through tall grass.”
“But by now all of the flora and fauna are tainted by the Mist. I can see that to be the case. This low growth you’re so concerned with is barely ankle height.”
“All the more reason to mow it down. Less places for whatever weird things mutate into existence to hide.”
“I see… But how high can it possibly grow?”
“Tall as a man if not taller,” Jeron began pushing the mower across the lawn.
“I do not hear a motor…”
“It’s a manual mower, Saari.”
“Why not use an automated one?”
“Do you not have batteries?”
“Can’t charge em without power.”
“But…” Saari thought a moment, “The Mist itself is a power conduit. Would it not fuel your machinery?”
Jeron froze as heat rose into his face. He knew that. He knew how the Mist worked.
“We don’t have a powered mower…”
“Why not? Wouldn’t that make life easier?”
“Pop always said it’s not about making life easier, but experiencing the task itself.”
“How is it any less of an experience to do it with less effort and more efficiently?”
Jeron’s grip tightened on the mower’s handle, “Saari…”
“I do not see the point of making this take any longer than it has to. Step aside.”
“Step aside. Please.”
Jeron slowly did as he was told. He knew better than to question the mighty void witch.
Lifting her staff into the air Saari called forth a blade of crystalline energy that swept through the grass all the way down the street, reducing it to just above ground height. “There. We are done. Now we may proceed to more important tasks like saving your planet.”
“Do you really have to show off like that?”
“With all due respect, consort, efficiency is all that matters. I come from a species that was forced to live as efficiently as possible. I see no reason to waste time where time can be better used for more important tasks.”
“I think Sylus meant for this to be a bonding experience…” Jeron rewound her words in his head, “Oh and I am nobody’s consort.”
Saari shrugged, “Bonding is not necessary for us to find a way to work together.”
“I have no desire to form relationships with anyone here. You may all yet wind up dead.”
“Wow. Thanks for the encouragement.”
“You are most welcome.”
See? That was easy. And I could do it with any characters in any situation.
But could I do that with Arthur and Oliver? No. Not at all. Outside the demands of the plot, I had no way of telling what they were capable of. I like knowing everything about a character and how they would react to any given scenario even if the plot doesn’t require it. Which is why I ended up with a series. A series of events that my characters are subjected to. This is how I write. This was not how I wrote my NaNoWriMo project. And it shows.
I also learned that I have two settings when it comes to writing.
1.) Series format. Wherein I have a lot of plot that can span over multiple subplots like a television show or comic book.
2.) Novella. Short and sweet without a lot of excesses.
Honestly, I like this balance. I always wanted the option to write more than just the series. Knowing I’m capable of writing a succinct, yet interesting tale around 30k words makes me much more certain I am capable of doing that. I had originally considered writing the series as well as a novel or two (yeah right) a year. Well, now it might be more like the series plus one or two novellas. And I’m okay with that.
I’ve come to more and more greatly appreciate the novella as a writing format. I’ve read plenty that I enjoyed, but I always saw myself as much too over-the-top to write one myself. Upon reflection, I’ve written several novellas in my life that ultimately went nowhere because “Novel or Bust” mentality. Well, NaNo taught me I could do it and that I can do it halfway decently.
I also learned that the more I got to know my NaNo characters, the more I wanted them to be together and have a HEA that was impossible with the current set up. I have to get to know them a bit more, but I think they deserve this. All I know for certain was that I was aiming for a sort of c’est la vie type ending where justice was served but no one was happy. I can’t really do that anymore and I think writing something a bit more positive couldn’t possibly hurt.
Like Clockwork, in its current state, is going to be scrapped entirely. I have no attachment to it save the two main characters, Arthur and Oliver. I think ultimately I will continue the idea of crime and mystery somehow because I enjoyed writing that part. It’s a challenge for me and I’d like to approach it again from a more comfortable angle and with better planning.
I may take an approach similar to Mrs. Robinson over on her Mulling It Over blog. She has a novella crime series that, with only one book in, has me hooked. I love her approach to the mystery genre. In a rather short story, I got to know her characters and actually care about them far more than I would have expected from a novella. She had a way of staying on target without getting too technical or bland which I appreciated. She was a huge inspiration when I came to terms with writing a mystery which is why I think I was on-target with my own work in realizing it was never going to be a full length novel. And there is nothing wrong with that. Hell if I could write something half as interesting as her, I’d call it a win. Not that I set out to use this post to plug another author, but Mrs. Robinson truly was an inspiration throughout this NaNoWriMo thing. Here’s a link to the novella I love probably way too much: The Golden Gremlin: A Sinister Shade Mystery (Volume 1).
I’ve gone over several different plot lines in my head, but I don’t think I’ll be settling on anything until I know Arthur and Oliver well enough to subject them to anything I can throw at them. This may take some time, but I will find a way to write their story. It just won’t be this mess I churned out for NaNoWriMo.
Which actually leads me to another revelation. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to juggle plotting the next arc of the Q’taxians as well as a completely different plot. I was certain one or both was going to suffer, but I was actually able to balance them okay. I thought for sure I’d be sacrificing Q’taxian progress to write this thing and while I did technically take November off, I did actually get some decent planning in on the side. Plots didn’t start bleeding. Characters didn’t start getting confused. I kept a very strong barrier between the two stories and I’m actually rather impressed with myself for that.
One really cool thing I got out of it all was finding an amazing writing program called iA Writer. I wanted something that would hold my focus with a minimalist, but useful interface. I usually type in Google Docs, but having a web page open tempts me too greatly to wander away from the work at hand. I’ll go into greater depth on this program in the future as I truly found it invaluable as someone who has a bad case of wandering eyes/cursors. Needless to say, I’ve become addicted to writing in it.
I have mixed feelings about my NaNoWriMo experience. I did a lot of reading up before I took on the challenge. I wanted to get a wide range of opinions on the event before diving in. Why? I’m not really sure. I had made up my mind to participate so nothing anyone said was going to deter me, but I wanted to see what people thought of the whole affair. That came down to two distinct opinions:
“Don’t do it.”
Very helpful. /s
Those who said not to do it harped on the toxic nature of deadlines in writing and focusing on word count over quality. They also often referenced people going directly to agents and overwhelming them with fresh-off-the-keyboard NaNo projects. Valid complaints, really, because I personally experienced some of these issues.
Those who said go for it, came from the angle of “why not? what can it hurt to try? It’s an experience!” and I jive with that feeling as well.
I think a lot of the downfall of this project comes from the idea that you’re writing a finished novel at 50k words. While you could have completed a story in 50k words, it is far from a finished product. Whatever you wrote during the NaNoWriMo event is a first draft and will need work no matter what. Whether you want to write more or not, it will still need a good editing and a brush with a fine-toothed comb before its ready to go anywhere from here. I feel like this is where the time constraint and quantity over quality takes effect. These are very difficult tasks to balance and tend to go hand in hand when it comes to sub-par work. Crunching and hitting a physical progress count rather than a quality check can lead to some serious sloppiness (see my entire post above). The basis of what you wrote could be pretty damn good, but you really should let it stew and come back to it after a while. It’s not done. Trust me. No matter how you feel about it, it’s not done when November ends.
So would I recommend NaNoWriMo? Yes. Try it at least once if it’s not going to cause any undue stress. It taught me some valuable lessens. Heck, it might even help you come to terms with your own writing like it did for me.
Is it meant for everyone? Absolutely not. I’ve learned that unless I go into the next round with extensive planning, I won’t be participating in 2020. The vaguely “competitive” nature is bad for people like me. Granted, I started out saying “screw 50k we’re going straight for 80k!” and winding up barely crossing the 50k threshold just for a badge. My will to write tapped out long before I got my achievements, but I had to get them nonetheless. Could I have tapped out? Sure. But could I really tap out? No. I had to “win”. That’s not the fault of the event, that’s a fault in my personality and yes, the idea of not “winning” did cause some stress for me. But that’s all on me, not NaNoWriMo.
That’s all with the idea of there being absolutely nothing to win. “Winning” grants you some discounts for useful writing software, but that’s it. Winning isn’t even a concept. It’s just achieving a personal goal dictated by the event.
Something very much worth mentioning is that you can create an account and use the site to track any writing project you want! Set your own goals and keep track of your progress!You do not have to participate in any of the NaNoWriMo events to use their service and it’s a very nice little service at that. I actually really liked the real time word count tracking. You had to be honest and update it accordingly, but seeing my statistics was actually really cool. I might continue to use the service far more casually going forwards. Perhaps to track Q’taxians entries? It’d be kinda nifty to see my stats on those…
As a tool? NaNoWriMo is really fun to use. There’s a good community behind it and you can buddy up and compare notes. (You can find me here btw: Tavorie on NaNoWriMo)
As an event? Take it in strides. In my opinion, as long as you’re writing, you’re doing just fine. If you know deadlines will cause a lot of anxiety, don’t worry about it. The writing community tends to light up with NaNoWriMo stuff in November, but don’t feel bad if you’re not participating. It really isn’t for everyone. Just keep writing at your own pace and be proud of every word you put down. If ya’d like a speed run challenge? Sure. Give it a shot. Like I said, I don’t regret my experience. I learned a lot from it. I’m just not happy with the end result of a month’s worth of writing. Was I expecting to be? Ehhh… I was at least hoping to have a decent groundwork set, but at this point, as I mentioned, it’s all getting tossed.
So I think that’s all I have to say about my first NaNoWriMo. It certainly was a learning experience. If you’d like to try it yourself, go for it! If not, you’re really not missing out on much. Never feel pressured no matter what’s going on around you. As long as you’re writing what you want when you want to, you’re winning.
Much love, and until next time,