Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2017

I participated in National Novel-Writing Month ( NaNoWriMo ) last year and “won” at 50,808 words. However, that’s a number that needs some commentary.

NaNoWriMo encourages you to count every word you write and thus never edit and never delete anything. I couldn’t manage to restrain my inner editor completely, so when I deleted something I pasted it into a separate file and counted both. Some people keep one file but use strikethrough or turn foreground colour white.
So by some standards, stricter than NaNoWriMo’s, I padded my count by a few thousand words. But that was just the couldn’t-help-myself edits. When we got to the What Now months, January and February, I wound up cutting another ten thousand words or so. Those fell into a couple of categories. Infodumps that should have been background notes. In-character musings to flesh out personality, goals, and so on. The chunks of freewriting that didn’t wind up in the main story line. So I now have “only” about 35k words of actual novel. However, when I get the mental energy to start editing again, interweaving those 35k with the 42k remnants of my 2015 efforts on another character’s point of view, that’s a significant fraction of the size of a typical fantasy novel.

Each of those two numbers is vastly more than the zero words I write in a typical month. For me, NaNoWriMo sort of worked, in that over two Novembers I got down a very crude draft of a substantial chunk of writing. But it doesn’t work at all for some. Apparently some people have quit writing because they couldn’t “win” NaNoWriMo, and that is a terrible shame.

I don’t have any strong insights into what factors make the month right for some people and not for others. There is something about NaNoWriMo that helps me focus. Some have suggested it is a combination of the community, the challenge, the limited timeframe. But there may be more to it than those things. I have a good community all year round now, thanks to encouragement from writers I met at the Writing Excuses retreats in 2015 and 2017. Various subsets of us have set one-month challenges, and I’ve still had a lot of trouble writing outside of November. My current hope is to finish that novel by the end of September and spend October outlining the next NaNovel, getting ready once again for November 1, but I’m not sure at this point whether that’s going to work out. I have this little health crisis to deal with.

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