Is There Life after NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo ended November 30, 2017. The good news is that, despite my children coming home for Thanksgiving and my driving to Indiana three times between November 16 and December 2, I finished my novel on time: 52,146 words churned out within the month of November. The bad news is that it was not possible for me to keep writing the novel and writing blog posts: it was a difficult decision, but I dropped my blogs and went with NaNoWriMo.

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Snow on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Now, a month after my last post here, I wonder whether abandoning the blogs was wise. During my first week of abstaining from WordPress, I missed it terribly: like most bloggers, I found myself composing posts in my head that would never make it onto the keyboard. I missed reading other people’s posts and hearing about their lives. But then I lost the blogging rhythm. Three weeks off is all it took. I began to feel distanced from the blogging community. It would be easy to slip away silently, particularly since I am behind on Christmas preparations. Presents? The very word paralyzes me, yet presents for my family must be bought. Should I take a long vacation from blogging again?

Why do we blog, anyway? Each of us has a slightly different answer to that question. My posts are motivated by the desire to share something, with a caveat: whatever I want to express or share requires feedback. Some thoughts can be spilled out into a journal, but other ideas ought to be bounced back and forth, or fleshed out more formally. Aside from sharing what is inside my head, I take and share pictures of the natural beauty that surrounds me. Not surprisingly, when I ceased blogging, I backed off on taking photos. Mid-November isn’t the most photogenic time in western North Carolina, anyway. Fall color had come and mostly gone.

So what brings me back to blogging, half-reluctant, half-shy? Well, I have snow pictures, and those photos cry out to be shared. Yes, Asheville had an unusually heavy December snow last week. The airport’s official snow count was 8 inches, but we measured 11.5” in places! Snow in December usually causes conflicts and cancellations, and this snow was no exception. There were positive aspects: my son and I went sledding, while I enjoyed walking with my daughter and my husband on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has been closed because of treacherous icy patches. There were two precious days of driving almost nowhere. Quiet. Walks. Beauty. So, yes, I’ve got photos to share, although it snowed so continuously last Friday that I didn’t risk getting my son’s good camera wet.

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And I’ve got a few reflections on NaNoWriMo to share. Winning NaNoWriMo left me feeling less satisfed than I’d expected. Yes, I wrote what technically meets the definition of a novel: “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” I tried to represent character and action realistically, but how difficult I found it! Moving characters from one physical location to another was challenging, and the passage of time baffled me. Not having any plan for where my initial plot was going—I’m a Pantser, in NaNoWriMo lingo—I found myself sticking very closely to my main character for the first several chapters. Where she went, I followed.

In answer to my question as to whether I should report on every emotion my character was experiencing, one of my readers helpfully advised me not to do that. Halfway through, my daughter—who has completed novels via NaNoWriMo’s contest twice before—read me a pep talk from NaNoWriMo in which the suggestion was made to change point of view. That was a life-saving suggestion, since I was tired of viewing the world from my main character’s perspective. I’ll never be good at plotting, I fear, but I found the flashback was an easy way to work in background information. One of the most delightful surprises I encountered was how new characters popped up in unexpected places. With both fear and elation, I let my characters lead me into the next episode of the plot.

For now, I’ve decided not to read through my novel even once until January, when my college kids have gone back to school. In January I tend to feel that nothing good will ever happen again. Once or twice, I’ve been tempted to get the novel out and tweak some inconsistency that occurred in my hurried writing, but I’ve resisted: if I can figure out how to resolve the ticket dilemma now, I can figure it out again in January, can’t I? On my last day of writing, when I churned out 7,101 words, I was tying several threads together so that the book would feel like it had an end. Frankly, I’m terrified of reading those concluding chapters, but, at the same time, I’m intrigued to see whether it hangs together.P1140001 (640x480)

My writing got sloppier as the novel progressed and the deadline drew closer. Near the end of November, someone asked what my first sentence was. When I went back to check, I was disappointed by the brevity and the blandness of my opening sentence: “Waiting.” So much for brilliance. I started my novel with a female character riding a train to a job interview; my confidence was seriously jolted in mid-November when I listened to a children’s audiobook that also opened with a female character riding a train to a job interview. A character on a train is a very obvious beginning for a novel. Ah, well. I’ll wait until January and find out whether what I have written should be shelved as an unsuccessful experiment or maybe—there is just the tiniest chance—edited until it is in good enough shape to be read by someone else. Now I understand why my daughter has never let anyone read either of the novels she wrote.IMG_1348 (480x640)

But I did it! I wrote something fictional. I created characters who took on a semi-autonomous existence and did things that surprised me. The last time I remember writing a story was in junior high, and that story was based on something that had happened to me. Parts of the writing were fun; writing dialogue was always enjoyable, while writing descriptions was often agonizing. Remembering what characters had done in previous chapters or what names I had impulsively given minor characters turned out to be much harder than I’d anticipated. It was very difficult not to start editing earlier chapters as I worked, but I tried to resist that temptation: I knew I’d never get done on time if I succumbed. (I’m an inveterate editor.)

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Go out or stay in?

On December 1, I found myself wondering what the point had been. Did my novel have something meaningful to say? Perhaps, in a very minor way. I had wanted to write a children’s book; I spent about an hour trying to write the first chapter of a children’s book. Then I gave up and wrote about a pivotal moment in the life of a youngish person who is trying to get from one day to the next without screwing up her own life or the lives of others. Not exciting. Not deep. Probably not marketable. So much for filthy lucre. Was it worth the minor sacrifices that were involved? I could not have finished, had we not eaten take-out food numerous times during the week after Thanksgiving.

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The Holly and the Ivy

So here’s a shout-out to the family members who left me alone while I typed away furiously, who let me talk to them about my characters and my plot problems. Without their understanding and tolerance I’d have failed. I appreciate the encouraging words of my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends after I posted about my writing challenge. While success has been strangely hollow, failure would have felt worse. Haven’t you worked intensely toward a deadline, thinking, “I’ll be so glad when this is done?” Only I’m not. I feel almost lost without Time’s winged chariot closing in behind me. Writing the novel was lonely, for the most part, and I don’t miss being trapped in a world of my own imagining. I don’t miss the self-doubt or the lack of feedback. But I do miss the feeling of satisfaction from writing my daily quota of NaNoWriMo words. I miss checking my novel’s stats on Most of all, I miss the sense of importance I felt while writing: briefly, I felt like Jo March when “genius” burned. I felt like an Author.congratulations writer (640x354)

13 thoughts on “Is There Life after NaNoWriMo?

  1. Pingback: Fast Away the Old Year Passes. . . | What oft was thought

  2. Since I have so far chickened/opted out on NaNo, I’m impressed, especially considering those trips to Indiana! It makes sense that something would have to be put on hold temporarily. The photos are beautiful. I’m glad you had fun in the snow.

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  3. 1. Depth in writing often comes from rewriting, when you begin to realize what you’ve handed yourself.

    2. For what it’s worth, my going theory is the multiple points of view make sense when the story’s an ensemble piece. If it’s not, if you could stage it using a single spotlight, then a single point of view makes sense. (Don’t think about that spotlight metaphor for too long or it’ll fall apart. Sorry. Best I could do.)

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    • In the end, there wound up being two main points of view. Also, the idea of having to work out yet another person’s living quarters was not appealing. I had thought of having three voices, but I was running out of time. One of the ridiculous things about NaNoWriMo is the idea that 50,000 words constitutes a novel. Many novels are much longer, and some are shorter. But, since I was playing a game, I stuck with the rules as I understood them.

      I’m not sure the narrative breaks down evenly between the two main voices, but it was very helpful to get a respite from my main character’s life. In fact, I got to liking the other person better by the time I was done.

      I hope you are right about the depth coming into the revision part. We shall see!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was just looking at a blog by someone who didn’t finish his novel and it occurred to me that the point is to get people writing. Some will finish Some won’t. Both are likely to come away with something. I’ve never tried the novel-in-a-month thing–I’m just too much of a rule-bender to be motivated by it. But a friend just published the novel she started–oh, it must be some ten years ago now–during NaNoWriMo. I recommend it: Murder on the Red River, by Marcie Rendon.

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    • Thank you, Deborah. We typically only get a few inches, so more than 8 inches, when a dusting had been predicted, felt like a gift.

      I’m curious as to how the novel will seem when I return to it. But I am glad I finished, no matter what. The worst thing about doing NaNo was that I got really far behind on housework, etc. I lost the rhythm of that as well 😦

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  4. This is from Madeline L’Engle; A Circle of Quiet: ” I don’t believe that we can write any kind of story without including, whether we intend to or not, a response to the world around us… We write alone, but we do not write in isolation. No matter how fantastic the storyline may be, it still comes out of our response to what is happening to us into the world in which we live.”

    Sorry for the long quote but it has really inspired me. Just FYI, I am still working on the novel that I won NANO in 2015. I may be writing it forever😀 But I’m good with that. Blessed Christmas to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing the quote! It makes sense that what’s going on in our world would seep into the world we’ve created, but somehow I wasn’t expecting that. I also love this part: “We write alone, but we do not write in isolation.” So many applications to my experience there. . . .

      If I ever do NaNo again (not next year for sure), I might try short fiction first, just for practice: if I’m going to dedicate an entire month to something, I’d like to feel like it’s worth it. The experience of NaNo was both more and less than I had looked for it to be.

      Congratulations on winning in 2015! I can see that a novel might take years 😊 Merry Christmas to you!


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