So here it is, a few days after the wrap-up of National Novel Writing Month for 2021. Somehow I found the time and focus to write my 50,000+ words, crossing the finish line in the early evening of November 25. Our Thanksgiving plans were upended so I took advantage of the extra time to push through to the end.
2021 was, in the parlance of our times, a hell of a year. Between the new reality of life in the middle of a multi-year pandemic, unexpected expenses, and the loss of three friends and my mother, I didn’t think I would have the energy, time, and focus to start a new project, much less see it through to completion.
But complete it I did, or at least complete the 50,000 words needed to win NaNoWriMo. I attribute this to several factors in my life here in the COVID years.
First, my wonderful partner, who herself is a writer and so understands the need to have time and space to work on creative projects.
Next, our cats Poe and Pepper, who insist that I am out of bed every morning at 5:00 to feed them. I am a morning person anyway, so this is not a big deal, though before the cats arrived I would get out of bed between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. I put that extra time to good use, getting in a solid couple of hours of writing at least five mornings a week, even though the amount of words I produced in that time varied wildly, depending on my energy level.
Third, I tried something new this year for the structure of my writing: Instead of going chapter by chapter, as I have done with past projects, I created 30 blank documents in Google Drive, one for each day of the month, and on each day I wrote exclusively in that document. If I ended the day in the middle of a previous chapter, the rest of that chapter would go in the new document.
I don’t know where I got the idea for this approach, other than that I have kept a daily (-ish) journal since sometime in 1991. The point there isn’t to write a set amount, but to write every day. There is no pressure to complete something. To borrow a phrase, the journey is the destination.
And this approach worked! I kept a running tally of my word count in a separate spreadsheet, and I appended the word count of each document to the title at the end of the day, so I could see at a glance where I was with respect to my goals. At no point during November did I drop below the minimum daily average of 1,667 words. And I didn’t miss a single day of writing before I hit 50,000 words.
I can’t say that this approach will work for everyone. And I don’t think it will work for those years where I write a collection of short stories instead of a single novel. But having November broken out as a series of quasi-journal entries made it easy for me to write every day, even if some days I only wrote a couple of hundred words. The days where I wrote 5,000 or more easily made up for the slow days.
As for the quality and content of what I wrote, I think it was improved by removing the pressure to complete “a chapter” by the end of the day. Certainly the words came more easily and I found myself getting into the flow of the story more easily. And in my experience the draft is just better when the writing is easy.
That is not to say that the editing part will be easy. No matter my frame of mind, I wrote 50,000 words, only sketchily-planned, in a month. This draft, when complete, will be not yet even be the first draft. That will come after the round of edits which I use to e.g. make sure the characters have the same names from one day to the next, and that a character who was killed on day 2 doesn’t suddenly reappear on day 20, unless that was the plan all along.
So I would call my NaNoWriMo 2021 experience an unexpected and unqualified success.