Finishing NaNoWriMo, continuing writing

So today I finished my unconventional NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words. I wound up working on seven different projects, writing as little as 100 words on one and as much as 27,000 words on another, plus everything in between.

My goal was to let the voices in, to explore, to play, and I did just that. I wrote things that are the sorts of things I already love to write and that are nothing like what I already write. I was open to possibilities that I might not have been otherwise open to. I finished rough drafts of two very different short things, and have beginnings and middles of several other things. I found writing more than one thing at a time was, in itself, fun, letting me bounce to another project instead of being done for the day when I hit a stuck spot. I’m curious to see whether bouncing around will also work when I start revising, which is, for me, more intense and immersive.

I have a lot of possibilities in front of me now, and also a lot of work. Because of course, this is what I do, and I don’t stop doing it when I hit 50,000 words.

Though there’s one other thing NaNoWriMo reminded me of. When I validated my “novel,” this goofy little video of NaNoers cheering at me for finishing came up. And first I thought, yeah, yeah, that doesn’t apply to me, because this is what I do, and writing 50,000 words for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time is different than writing them for the first time.

And then I thought, no, the thing is, when you’ve written 50,000 words many times before, you forget that it is still awesome, and worth cheering.

So here I am. Cheering and owning my awesome and continuing to work hard in the months and years ahead all at once.

NaNo-ing outside the box

Since the majority of my writing time is actually spent revising and honing in on a story, NaNoWriMo doesn’t often fit in with my process, but a couple years ago, I found myself starting a rough draft right when November was rolling around. So I gave it a try, and found that when the timing is right, NaNo fits in with one of my messy exploratory drafts just fine.

Last year the timing was very not right–I was deep in revision mode in November. But this year it is again–sort of.

After taking some time off after finishing a book, I’ll be ready to dive in in November, but I won’t be ready to dive in to any one thing. I need some time to play, to listen for story voices, to poke and prod and explore all the many projects that have been whispering to me the past few years.

So my plan for November is simply to let the voices in.

That is, to work on whatever I want to, for as long as I want to. To bounce from project to project or, if one project grabs me by the throat as I’m doing so, to let it grab me and follow it. And along the way, to be open for any new voices that may want to whisper the beginnings of stories I haven’t thought about yet to me. My stories begin with voice, more often than not, and that stray line or stray scene I write down now could be that novel I work on in five years, or ten. Bones of Faerie began with a scene like that, actually.

So this NaNoWriMo I’ll be listening, and following whispers and whims, and just generally giving myself permission to play for the first time in a while, in a different way than in the way all writing is ultimately playing.

It’s not the traditional way of doing NaNoWriMo. But no one can stop me. And the only real rule for writing is, what works, works.

If you’re NaNo-ing too, in whatever form, my NaNoWriMo page is here.

“Who were you before the Fall? / I was a singer, saw the future …”

I had ambitious plans to get up early yesterday and push hard to hit 60K of exploratory draft by the end of November, but spent the day instead fighting off a cold by reading and nursing many cups of tea, so 55K for the month it is, plus another 2K written before the month began. Still another maybe 10K to go to finish said draft, and then a bunch of drafts after that … I decided to do NaNoWriMo when November lined up with the right part of my process for it this year. Usually I’m in the middle of some draft other than the first one, because at least 80% of my writing time is spent on drafts other than the first one.

When I validated my word count at the NaNoWriMo web site last week, the following text came up:

Congratulations, novelist! You won!

I found myself a bit bemused, because I couldn’t remember the last time I thought of a novel as winning rather than finishing. You win contests, I thought. You finish jobs. The past couple decades have been all about becoming someone who thinks of writing as my job, rather than just this thing I do, after all.

But after a time, I decided the wording wasn’t actually wrong. Because the thing that’s been the most fun about doing NaNoWriMo has been being reminded of what it was like, in the beginning, when I’d never finished a book and was terrified I couldn’t, when I’d never even finished a short story and was wondering if I ever would, when the very idea of writing anything for real–even though it was what I’d dreamed of all my life–seemed a little bit crazy.

That’s what NaNoWriMo is really for, bridging that crazy gap between hoping/wishing/dreaming/wanting to/being afraid to and actually taking that first leap out into actually doing. And it’s also for having other people around you, cheering, getting just how amazing making that leap is.

A lot of work comes after that leap. Reading the NaNoWriMo twitter stream, it was clear that some writers understood this better than others. Maybe that’s okay. If anyone had told me how much work was still to come after I’d finished my first novel (heck, after my first novel was on the shelves–which was in the mid-90s, because my career wasn’t a straight-line sort of career) I might well have been frightened into giving up. That first leap needs to be giddily celebrated.

At times, especially at the start of NaNoWriMo, I felt a bit jaded as a writer, reading all that giddiness, knowing how much work lay on the other side of it, at least for those aiming for publication (which can be the goal but doesn’t need to be). I found myself wanting to give advice on things writers ultimately have to learn on their own, in their own ways; I felt like a bit like maybe I didn’t really belong there at all, for all that the prod to push a little harder on my draft was kind of nice.

It was good to be knocked out of that jadedness a little, too. It was good to be reminded that ultimately, writing is supposed to be, along with everything else, crazy joyful fun–that that’s one of the reasons we all started writing. It was also good to be reminded that every stage of the writing process needs celebrating, that there are too few milestones and we need to enjoy them as often as we can.

So I’m good with having “won” NaNoWriMo. My only gripe would be with how those who wrote less than 50K this month sometimes refer to themselves as having “failed” NaNoWriMo. The opposite of writing 50K isn’t failure; it’s Keep Writing.

Actually, that’s what follows any and all word counts. Today, a lot of NaNoWriMo regions are planning TGIO (thank god it’s over) parties. When I first saw that, my reaction was to think, What is this over of which you speak? And then I laughed, thinking maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a bit obsessive about this writing thing through the years.

But on the other side of all the celebrating, it’s not over, not really, not ever if many of us can help it. We have words to write and stories to tell and ultimately … that’s pretty awesome.

“…we’re flying /crying in that crow crazy way /tell me who is more free /at the end of the day?”

Thank you, everyone who’s bid over at magick4terri so far, on my auctions and on all the auctions. I’ve already been outbid on several lovely things myself–but new things are being added regularly, luring me back.

Book pace is slowing down. Wonder if there’s something I’m missing, though in the rough draft it generally doesn’t matter much, given how much there still is to find.

Or maybe after pushing most of the month, my brain is just reminding me that sometimes it wants slow days.

54600 / 50000 words. 109% done!

“Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable / and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear”

Reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and loving it so much I both want to read faster and am afraid of reading too fast. I have a suspicion this is going to go up there with Sarah Zettel’s Dust Girl as one of my favorites of the year.

Except Dust Girl isn’t due out until next year. Have I talked about Dust Girl yet? Maybe it’s too early to, but … I think I will sometime soon anyway. (Fairies. Dustbowl era. It totally works.)

But Daughter of Smoke and Bone is out right now, and if you love a good contemporary mythic story, you should stop reading this post right now and start reading that book instead. (Monsters who might or might not be demons. Seraphim who might or might not be angels. A girl raised by the former whose nature is unknown … and none of this does justice to the Story So Far at all.)

Inching into the final third of the current draft, with the vague sense that there are many Significant Story Elements yet to be uncovered. Sometimes I really do think I’m a tactile writer, working by feel in the dark, even though with stories very little can be touched in a literal way.

53350 / 50000 words. 107% done!

“Your kids will learn again / how to build a fire / where to look for water”

Right. Passed 50K today, and also reached a good stopping point for taking a few days off to think about the rest of the story. You know, the part where the characters need to fix what’s gone wrong, save or fail to save the world river, and so on.

Which is good, because I’m taking a few days off anyway. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating same!

51900 / 50000 words. 104% done!

“I climbed a mountain and I turned around / And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills”

Dear Likeable Adult Mentor-Like Character,

Thanks for being so helpful to all the younger characters who need you. They really appreciate it.

Now, can you go get yourself injured please?



Realized after about 1800 words that something needed to attack my whiteboard-and-doughnut loving characters, and that this was the time for that something to do so. Spent the rest of the day figuring out what–and more importantly, why.

45300 / 50000 words. 91% done!

“The road is quiet / the only sound / is wind that sounds like cars that sound like breathing”

Dear Characters,

Next draft, you won’t be solving your problems at a leisurely pace over a breakfast meeting, whiteboard and markers in hand.

No, there won’t even be doughnuts.


Dear Protagonist,

Have you noticed that you’re falling for the wrong girl? Because I have.


43600 / 50000 words. 87% done!

“… we lay on our backs / Staring up at the blue and the blue stared back”

It’s looking like the end of my NaNoWriMo draft will put me about 2/3 of the way through the actual total draft, maybe a little bit more. There’s something closer to actual structure here than for the last couple books, which is interesting. But then, maybe I said that last book, too.

It’s been a fascinating progression.

– Unsold Early YA novel: Kept 2/3 of my first draft.
– Bones of Faerie: Kept about 1/3 of my first draft. (To around the point where Matthew finds Liza in the woods.)
– Thief Eyes: Kept the prologue.
– Faerie Winter: Kept … nothing. Wrote the wrong book, in the wrong town, with the wrong characters, en route to finding the right ones. (This was also, maybe not-coincidentally, the book where I decided to fully embrace my process, and stop worry I ought to be fighting it.)
– Faerie After: Kept bits and pieces throughout. Wrote something closer to the general neighborhood of the right book. Sort of.
– New Book: The structure has a chance of being more or less right again, even if all that happens within it gets rewritten. At least for the 2/3 already on the page–last 1/3 is still impossible to predict.

Where saying I kept something means, I kept the basic story, but not necessarily much of the prose. And where large amounts of what on paper went unused or changed utterly actually informed the magic, issues, and themes of the larger book. Which is why I don’t think of any of it as time wasted or mistakes made or things thrown away, but all part of a larger process.

And then there was Secret of the Three Treasures, where I pretty much kept the original book and my edits were mostly surface edits, at least compared to my usual process. Because sometimes, a book comes along that’s just a gift, and you can’t (I can’t) plan on it and can’t predict when that will happen. I’ve had at least one short story like this, too.

40000 / 50000 words. 80% done!