I can’t remember when I decided that this year, 2018, I would finally tackle NaNoWriMo. For most of the year, I have been developing, outlining, and crafting a new story, a new novel, and I was certain it was in perfect shape for the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It’s an idea, a premise, and a cast of characters that have been circulating in my creative mind for over ten years – at least high school – and I had completed the outline (for the most part) by August, leaving me to basically just finesse a few plot points, transitions, etc., and then sit down to write the prose proper, come November 1st.
Except that a new idea, a variation for this story, hit me at the end of October, and if I incorporated it, effectively 80% of my outline would be rendered null and void.
Fighting back panic, I tried to ignore the new development and heed NaNo advice from authors both in person and online (“don’t think, just write!”) and so, when November arrived, I rolled up my sleeves, placed fingers over the keyboard…and knew within four days that I wouldn’t make it.
Maybe that seems a little premature, but I stand by the decision. The story was not ready – I wasn’t ready – and I knew it in my gut, in my bones. It was difficult not to see this as a failure, but I learned a very valuable lesson about myself and my writing process through this experience. Having just essentially completed an almost four-year experience with the project that would become Resistance Rising (six years, including the contest phase of Genre Wars), I find myself in a very uncomfortable stage of the creative process: starting over. I am leaving a comfortable, familiar world, in which I know the characters and their story arcs intimately, and traipsing into the unknown. The task is daunting and yet I know that it must be undertaken. I also know that it’s time for me to tell this next story: Chosen, as I’m currently calling it. The core concept and structure hasn’t changed in the years that I’ve been musing over it, but once I considered making that single alteration, everything twisted in a different direction and I had a choice to make. I could continue forward with NaNo and either:
(A) Try to shove the new idea to the back burner and force 50,000 words out of me, whether I liked them or not – which felt physically painful and made me sick with dread each time I thought about it…
(b) I could open myself up to the new possibilities my moment of inspiration created.
Simply put, I could plunge ahead unhappily, with blinders on, OR stick the story back in the metaphorical oven to let it cook a little while longer.
I also realized that part of my sense of dread – as well as my concern for whether I could hack it – came down to a whole new realization about myself. The first few days of NaNo drove home such massive unpleasantness for me because it felt like solitary confinement. I work in film and media production and while most of what I do (namely: editing) is a solitary endeavor, I’m also involved with the pre-production and actual production phases of a project as well. Furthermore, even with editing there are frequent check-ins with the rest of the team, discussing the direction a current edit is taking, which pieces stand out, how best to convey the right message, etc. Creativity is a collaborative process in so many ways and it took this experience, this stab at working completely alone, for me to realize that I am much stronger – and have a lot more fun – when working with others. Up to a point. Writing is a solitary exercise at its core, but storytelling is collaborative (or it can be, anyway). That collaboration, that working together stage is where I prefer to live; developing an idea in tandem with others, and then getting feedback and discussing the result created in the intervening time, the actual pen-to-paper stage.
So, it would be very easy to label this year’s attempt at NaNoWriMo as a failure on my part, but I don’t see it that way. I still learned a lot and I am still developing the new project. In the end, I could have tried to produce 50,000 words, but I chose not to.
However, to all those NaNo writers out there who did reach their 50k goals (and those who didn’t, too): congratulations! And I hope you learned as much as I did this year.