The Un-NaNo Solution

By the time this gets posted, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) will have begun. But not for me.

Last year was my second attempt at NaNoWriMo. After failing the first year, I met 2011 with determination and attacked NaNo with gusto. I took a full week off of work at the start. I hit it hard. And by November 30th I had 50,000 words.

They weren’t great words. In fact, I had written several scenes by the seat of my pants, unsure where they would fit within the structure of the novel. I had sub-plots that died out. I had characters who remained under-developed. And when I looked back on my story, I realized that several things were happening TO my main character, not BECAUSE of her.

I wanted to start editing my mess of a zero draft, but first there was Christmas, then one thing, then another. The year flew by. The next thing I knew, my friends were talking about NaNoWriMo again.

I got excited! I started to brainstorm, wondering about whether or not I should take a character from an existing short story and try to make him the hero of his own novel. I began to immerse myself in research about the 1920s, and I tried to learn everything I could about the era.

When I shared my pre-NaNo excitement with my co-worker, Scott, he asked me if I was going to finish my novel from last year.

I hemmed. I hawed. I tried to explain that my unfinished novel needed a lot of work, and I couldn’t very well fix what needed fixing AND write 50,000 additional words. I said I needed to start fresh, to work on a new idea.

“No,” he said. “You need to finish your book. You can either have one completed story or two half-finished ones.”

Scott’s not-so-gentle nudge to finish my work smacked me in the face. And that (as Robert Frost once wrote about an untraveled road) made all the difference.

I decided, I wouldn’t do NaNoWriMo this year.

A writer has to think about story, pacing, character development, and a thousand other things that fly right out the window when all you care about is hitting a word count.

So this year, I’m saying “No” to NaNo. I will still attend the write-ins with the local writers group. I will still take time off from work to focus on my writing the first few days of the month. But I’m not writing toward the NaNo goal of 50,000 words.

Instead, I’ll be editing. I’ll be plotting. And I’ll be developing my characters better. And if (big IF) I get that work done before the end of the month, I’ll write more of the story. I’ll work toward another goal, a harder goal.

I’ll work to finish what I started.

Note: A longer version of this article appears on my blog, The Creativity Well.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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