#NaNoWriMo day 5, in which I reset expectations and still write to win.

5 Nov

I’m going to tack differently into this 2012 nanowrimo wind. Lemme explain.

In 2006, knowing nothing about writing novels (or writing any kind of fiction), I wrote fluidly, solidly, for 84K or so. Since then, no other novel-length work have I written so fast or full of story. But paradoxically, I’ve come to understand that I can write better than I did then—I can choose better words, better pacing, better structure, more satisfying story arc and setting.

But writing to a word count doesn’t help me improve any of the things my writing needs: better characterization, a more nuanced grasp of setting, etc. Even in my day job, I write for meaning first, then trim or expand to make the best use of the available space, to best communicate the necessary information.

So I’ve been frustrated with Nanowrimo, and my husband helped me figure out why: I’ve been playing varsity fiction writing—not necessarily winning, mind you, but playing—and now I’m doing a JV word-count workout, and I’m wondering why the hell I’m doing it.

My writing heroes have written all kinds of stuff—from novellas to flash to novels to essays to poetry to whatever the hell tells the story. Word count isn’t a useful criterion for goodness of story. Appropriateness for a particular market or publishing strategy, sure—but that comes later, after it’s burst forth on the page.

So why am I still participating in Nanowrimo?

First, for the community, camaraderie, frivolity. That’s all good stuff, and stuff I need. And, it should be noted, stuff I get year-round with my regular writing peeps, for whom I’m intensely grateful.

Second, for the structure. Last year, I made a commitment to come in to work on an even earlier bus, and to spend that reclaimed time writing fiction.

I intentionally used last Nanowrimo to start that habit, and have carried it all year—even during crunch-times. There were perhaps four mornings during the year that I started early with work-writing instead of fiction-writing; there were maybe five mornings I was too exhausted to create an imaginary world that wasn’t simply asleep. That’s a record I’m proud of, and I have every intention of continuing.

So did I write 50K words per month? HELL NO. Because there isn’t enough editing time in the world to make that many words usable. This year’s total new fiction word count, so far, is approximately 35,300 words. Some of it is explorational—it may be turned into something, someday, but so far is a fragment in search of a home. Some of it has been submitted and published. One of the best pieces is one of the shortest—fewer than 1000 words—and was the easiest to write.

35K words is not a novel worth of prose. It’s not coherent, and I’m clearly working through experimentation with characterization, setting, story, and pacing. All of which is totally reasonable for anyone in this part of their writing career—by which I mean, is totally reasonable for ME, in this part of MY writing career.

So, what about Nano? I’m going to write, write, write, and lead a write-in, and enjoy the community, and not try to be The Perfect, Fast Novelist.

Will I win for writing 50K words? Probably not. Instead, I’m hoping to win what I actually need—including reasonable, appropriate goals, and practicing patience with myself.

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