No, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, so stop asking.

I’m not ready. Or rather, my novel isn’t. (Which I have a sinking feeling might be two ways of saying the same thing.)

For those of you mouthing Na-No-Wri-what?, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and in online writing circles (i.e. the big fat geek fests that are my cup o’ tea), it’s pretty much a Big Deal. Every November, all the novels sitting on hard-drives and Scrivener docs the world over are kick-started by this event, with the idea that if the participants write every single day, they will all have a novel (or 50K of one, whichever comes first) finished by November 30th.


In my experience? Roughly 70% of participants have 50K of gibberish finished by November 30th, 29% have given up by November 10th, and 1% is bragging that they finished, wrote 70K not 50K, and are now polishing their final draft. Oh, and they’re lying.

Or maybe that’s just the sour grapes talking. Because if I only had a new novel idea that would stick to the ribs, I’d be doing it. NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriYr…actually. On my own. Every day of every month. Just as I did the year I completed The Novel That Won’t Die.

But I don’t. I have a concept for Novel #2. I like it. It has potential. It even has roughly 7K of prose to back it up. Clipped to that, I have a few paragraphs of outlined plot. A few paragraphs. I have it divided into sections and I have main characters and I have a very, very generalized story arc. But whenever I try to sit down and write it, I can’t get a proper stab at it. It slides around the plate, always just out of reach. And it’s been teasing me thus for at least a few months.

I’ve wrestled with this before, the old ‘chicken or the egg’ question. Which comes first, the outline (plot) or the content (prose)? My preference? The outline. I like to look at a neatly bullet-pointed summary and tick off the boxes as I write. I don’t like casting myself into the abyss, writing any way the wind blows. Could I do that once a day to 50K? Hell, yeah. I’m a great pen-to-paper (How do you think I got through four years of English Lit?) But what I’ll be left with is a protagonist staggering aimlessly through a barren desert (metaphorically-speaking, of course), and who wants that? More to the point, who wants to read that?

But to play devil’s advocate, if I don’t just start to write already, I’ll never know where my protagonist is headed. It’s a conundrum, to be sure. So I’m wondering…if you’re a writer, what do you write first, the chicken or the egg? What works for you? And don’t tell me how far you already are in NaNoWriMo. I don’t want to hear it.

24 thoughts on “No, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, so stop asking.

  1. Oh how I relate to this post. I tried NanoWriMo last year and 25,000 words in, I realized I was mindlessly typing words that made very little sense. It did get me in the chair to write everyday, but I am too much of a self editor, deleting and retyping as I go. That approach doesn’t work when you have to get 50,000 words written by the end of the month.

    As far as my novel now, I don’t outline. I have a general sense of where I want my character to go, but nothing concrete as to what happens in the chapter. Lately, I’ve been thinking outlining might help me, although I am afraid if I do that, it will stifle creativity.

    I don’t know the right answer. I only know I have to just write.

    • Glad I’m not alone in thinking NaNo sometimes produces nothing but drivel. (At least for some of us!)

      Good luck with the novel. I only think outlines stifle creativity if it’s set in stone. If it’s fluid, it will work. Now if only I could think up a decent plot.

  2. For me, it almost always starts with the characters. And then a plot slowly grows from that. And then I start research, for about a year (I’m a slow and in-depth researcher – as evidenced by the several pages of copious notes I have on the first four chapters of the first out of five books I’ve started studying for my next novel). Occasionally, if I get a burst of brilliant inspiration, I’ll scribble a few pages of actual story, but I don’t really start writing it until I have all the research done and the outline (which usually gets changed, but oh well) down.

    But that’s me. I’m a plodder with bursts of occasional inspiration. I would never make it through NaNoWriMo unless I had all the preliminary stuff done first, and maybe no even then!

    • That sounds like the way I like to go about it, too. I like all my ducks in a row first, so I have a goal and a destination each time I sit down to write. Maybe I need to skip the outline step and move on to detailed research first. Hmmm….

  3. I think the concept that you commit yourself to your writing and try to spend some time on it every day is a good one. Focusing on how many words you can spit out onto a page in a specific timeframe is not motivating, in my opinion. I’m doing WNFIN (Write Non Fiction in November), but I refuse to pay any attention to word count.

    • I agree. The concept is sound, but as soon as I’m writing only for the sake of writing, I lose heart, because I love to self edit as I go. Good luck with WNFIN!

  4. I have NO advice since I wouldn’t call myself a writer and have no interest in writing a novel. But I will say that I think it comes from just doing. Perhaps that’s naive. But whenever I’ve wanted to do something I try to avoid the barrier of how to do it and just dive in. TRY being the operative word.

    Also, I really enjoyed reading this. I learned more about the process that I ever knew.

    • You’re right. When I was writing my first draft of my first novel, I only started making headway when I dove in and just STARTED. I tried to do the same this time around, but it was like pulling teeth. So who knows…maybe novels are like kids; you don’t get the same one twice. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I started just plain out writing my novel. I don’t think I actually ever outlined anything on actual paper, just had the idea in my head. I made up some of the side characters as I needed them. And just something that helped me when I couldn’t spit the words out onto the page in a way that sounded good–write it out anyways. That usually gets the words flowing, at least for me, anyways. You can always go back and rewrite that part, just as long as you get the idea on the page and can move on to the next part.

    • You are right that there are moments to just keep moving forward, knowing you can rewrite. I’ve been there, too. At this juncture, I feel I need a little more in terms of solid plot to get the ball rolling, but perhaps I need to just start (again) and see where it leads!

  6. Hellfire, there’s no way I’d do that NaNo thing. Mainly because I’m a lazy ass.

    If you find a motivator that gets your butt in gear, please share with me. I need one. Like nobody’s business.

    Plot never got me excited about my writing. Is that bad? The only thing that really got me going was a big, juicy, colorful character. Preferably a complicated one. Then I’d spend at least 50 pages dithering around, figuring out what I wanted to do with said character. Not the most efficient method, in all honesty.

    • Maybe not efficient, but as long as some aspect of the project inspires you, you’re set! I am meh about my plot and eh about my characters (so far), which kinda sucks.

  7. I’m trying to write every day. But the more I write, the more I realize just vomiting words onto the page is not as productive as it could be – if I actually had character sketches and some general idea of where the story is heading.

    The good news is I’m having fun, even though the writing is, well, awful. I’ve never really tried to write anything of length and I’ve never done fiction, so this is mostly exploratory for me. Can I create interesting characters? Can I create a compelling storyline? Do I in fact possess any writing ability whatsoever? Can I maintain my voice?

    I figure if I just keep getting stuff down I can find some of these answers.

    • You’re right. Just getting stuff down allows you to see what exactly you have to work with. That’s a valid point. When I wrote my first novel, I ‘made’ myself write 500 words a day. Some days they were awful, and some days great, but I just edited the awful. It was a good motivator (especially knowing I could quit at 500 each day)!

  8. I’m not writing a novel this month, I’m writing a screenplay. But to answer your question I don’t normally have an outline, let along a plot… so I guess I have prose first. I’m not exactly the most proficient writer, so… yeah, nothing gets finished. I’m just too A.D.D.

  9. Umm….I’m totally at 50,000 words already. I’m like amazing.

    Except that I haven’t written in my novel since, um, August. And I have no immediate desire to do so. Still waiting for an angel of literary genius to come down and tell me exactly what to write.

    • Still, 50,000 is great! When you jump back into it, at least you won’t be drowning at the beginning like I am. When you find that angel of literary genius, I’ll rent him/her from you, if you don’t mind.

  10. Hey you.

    But whenever I try to sit down and write it, I canโ€™t get a proper stab at it. It slides around the plate, always just out of reach. And itโ€™s been teasing me thus for at least a few months.

    Yes. But you know? It will be consumed eventually. Look on it as a piece of cheese wot matures with time (okay, there’s mould there, but hey? It’s supposed to ripen the flavour, bb). Like you, I’m not a fan of the Novel in the Month of November acronym, nor could I do it.

    Actually, you know the number of words we (both you and I) are capable of writing each day, everyday, but the quality? That’s where I have learnt to temper my ambitions.

    Orright hon, just know I am *watching you*, making sure that the mouldy piece of cheese eventually gets put upon a nice slice of sour dough, nestle atop a spreading of avocado, a slice of summer ripened tomato and toasted with that quality and sumptuousness we expect.

    Oh. And I never plot that well, but I know you know I know.

    • Oh, you. ๐Ÿ™‚ Now I’m very hungry and must stop writing to go make a sandwich.

      You’re right…it will just ripen while I moan about it for months. Imagine how great it’ll be then! lol

  11. I’m so proud. I made it to 245 words. A new record for me. Who in the mommy world without domestic servants has that kind of time? People with sleep disorders aside. Oh well. A novel written over time can age, like a good wine. Cheap wine is banged out in a month. At least that’s what I tell myself and I feel much better for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I always look on at NaNoWriMo participants as circus clowns. Lots of talk and entertainment, but shoving everything into one tiny car is uncomfortable for everyone. I think the month is great for kick-starting the juices, though.

    • Circus clowns…lol. It DOES kick start the juices though. I always like a happy ending, so I get excited when I hear that someone who started with NaNo keeps going throughout the year.

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