November 2017 breaks a long dry spell for me

My seventh consecutive winning NaNoWriMo manuscript

NaNoWriMo logo NaNoWriMo badge

On the one side, it’s been an absolutely brutal time in which to generate creative ideas for reasons described well by author John Scalzi. And yet, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2011. Basically, I think that doing any kind of creative writing is like developing proficiency in a sport – you have to exercise the basic skills, over and over, until they become automatic. The way I’ve always prepared for NaNoWrimo before was to put together a plot outline, a list of characters, some idea of pivotal scenes, and, sometimes, a timeline of the world I’m building. Coming into the beginning of November, I had none of these, so no blueprint for a story that would occupy most of my free time for the next thirty days.

So to my way of thinking the situation was basically the opposite of this:

But there was a way out: I could abandon the idea of a predefined story skeleton and switch from being a plotter to a pantser. If I hit a snag in the story, I just had to pivot away from the problem, take things in a different direction, and just trust in my unconscious. I had never done this before for such a long project.

When November 1st rolled by, I decided to go with that strategy. I started my story with one main character in one place, built toward an action-packed conflict, discovered that that didn’t work. I pivoted to a family drama, and just as that was coming to a resolution, allowed a subplot to take over and send my characters to an exotic setting thousands of miles away. I established how this would work out, found the whole thing growing static again, and introduced a new cast of characters on the other side of the world to take the story idea in a more philosophical direction I liked. I set off a couple of literal bombs, I came up with an entire new alien biology. As the word count mounted, I spirited my original main characters to a second exotic setting.

Earlier this afternoon, I crossed the nominal 50000 word winning mark. And it was fun!

As any participant who’s been in this game as long as I have would tell you, the collection of words I have now is far from a book. not only is it shot full of holes, inconsistencies, characters who disappear just as you get to know what they’re about, and weird infodumps, I realized weeks into the effort that all I’d written up to then was simply prologue and that the real worthwhile part was contained in the last third of the manuscript. I’m pretty sure it isn’t a novel buried in there, maybe a novella or a short story might be carved out of the carcass. After expending considerable editing effort, of course.

Here’s my January to October word count for the past few years:


The previous low point was the year I left the East Coast, hurried out west to hunt out a new job, and moved out to California. That wasn’t an easy time. But this year, in addition to the turmoil in the country, I had an additional round of intense job hunting to distract me from the writing. So, this month’s addition of 50000 words represents nearly half of my creative output for the year so far.

I am thinking of going in a somewhat different direction starting with the new year, which I’ll describe here when the time is right.

comments powered by Disqus