Thursday, April 23, 2015

WHY NANO (AND CAMP NANO) DOESN’T WORK FOR ME

~I need to write a disclaimer on this post. Nanowrimo works for a lot of people, just not for me. The writing experience is unique. The way I write a book is not the way everyone writes a book, or even the way I’ll write in ten years. Writing is an evolution. These are thoughts on my current one.~


How many times have I participated in nanowrimo and failed? You’d think I’d learn by now that this format is not for me. I had myself convinced that if I participated in Camp NaNo (in April) that I would have a different outcome. That picking a much more reasonable goal (30K instead of 50K) would make a difference.

If writing a novel was only about words on the page, I’d be able to do it. The thing is, I can’t convince myself that quantity verses quality works. I have a problem with pushing ahead and wasting my time.

Yes, I believe that getting words on the page matters, no matter what those words are. And I also know that first drafts are crappy no matter what.

But. — And this is a huge BUT.

I’m not going to let myself write into a direction that I’m going to scrap.

When I get stuck, or rather, slow down on word count because I’m never actually “stuck,” it’s always because there’s a reason. There’s something that I don’t understand about the character’s interaction or their decision making. Or I don’t understand a nuance of how a specific detail in the book works. Or perhaps, though I know what comes next, I’m completely clueless as to why that is.

I am not speaking to the individual scenes and how they flow together. Those are always plotted very early on, if not before I begin a new project. That’s why I’m never stuck on knowing what comes next, or even skipping ahead and writing a scene out of order.

But just because I have an outline does not mean I understand anything about my book. It’s why I don’t understand when panters say “I like to experience my book as it happens,” like having an outline makes that go away. Because I experience it when it happens too, just in a more structured — will get me to the answer faster — kind of way.

Understanding what scenes need to happen in what order and knowing the underlying subtext of those scenes, are two different things. Every character wants something. I have to know and understand the motivation of each person (even though I may never reveal it) in order to create the full picture.

I refuse to push ahead for the sake of words if I’m not 100% aware of the reasons my characters are doing what they’re doing. I’m in control of them, not the other way around.

Plus, it’s incredibly easier to edit a book that has a strong structure than one cobbled together without rhyme or reason.

Things that I find easier to fix than structure:

Personality changes: My 1st draft characters always have a bit of a morphing personality. That’s because I learn about them as I write. I might know who they are as a list of descriptions on paper, but I’m not yet aware of their nuances. I always have to go back in subsequent drafts to make their personalities even.

Minutia: It’s relatively easy to go through the forest and draw out all the trees that point to the path. It’s much easier to see it once the draft is finished.

Pacing: No matter what, pacing needs to be fixed. So I never worry about this in early drafts.

What I find impossible to fix in later drafts — or rather, near impossible because while it can be fixed, it’s an entire rewrite — is fixing plot. If you write without an eye to stake, and without a sense of what drives your characters choices, there WILL be a significant rewrite. At least half, if not all the book will be reworked at that point. There should be no action without impact, or conversation without meaning.

That is why I find myself surrounded by printouts of my notes, hand written stickies, and two mind maps that keep morphing larger and larger as I glue on paper to expand them, asking myself: “What is going on with all these characters? Why are they reacting this way? And if they do, what is the consequence?”

Small questions that will save me MONTHS of rewriting.

That is why I will always fail at NaNo. My first drafts don’t have to be close to perfect, but they do have to be thoughtful. And while some people can write thoughtful fast, I can not. Often when know there’s a snag, and while I want to push for an answer right then, it takes my brain a few days to catch up.

In the meantime I’m not staring at a blank screen. I’m working the problem. Brain dumping. Writing out the questions. Trying to find answers. They all lead to the fix… eventually.


NaNo wasn’t a entire loss. I did get a significant amount of words written and I’m in a much better place in the book. “Winning,” though? I guess that depends on how you value winning. No, I’m not close to my word count goal, but I’m very pleased with my progress.

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