NaNoWriMo Recap 2021

Well, we did it. November came and went, and we wrote. Some of us met our goals, and some of us didn’t, and that’s all okay. Didn’t write as much as you meant to? That’s what tomorrow’s for.

If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is a program designed to help participants write a (short) novel in 30 days. If you write 1,667 words everyday, you’ll have a little over 50,000 (a short novel) by the end of the month. The event comes with writing groups, video game-like badges you can earn for meeting goals, etc. (and it’s all free, you just decide to jump in and sign up).

I’ve been wanting to write a second novel (I wrote my first nearly ten years ago, and was a good learning experience but that’s about it), and decided that NaNoWriMo might be a good way to apply some external motivation.

…having just a few structural hooks that I knew I was writing toward was a tremendous help on days where I felt stuck, or where the volume felt overwhelming.

What follows is my own personal recap of my experience with NaNoWriMo 2021. How much I wrote, what I have left to write, what I wrote, and some lessons I learned along the way. In reverse order.

Some Lessons

I just started a new job this past October, so my usual schedule of writing whenever I have free time no longer works–with my commute, I’m home so little that writing at home was out of the question.

So it would have to be the commute. I’m on a commuter train for a half-hour each morning and night, and then I have my lunch hour, which would give me two hours a day to write in. It turned out that I never needed my outgoing commute; between lunch and the morning commute, I was always able to hit my 1,667-word goal.

That said, 1,667 words every day is a lot, especially with a full-time job. I’ve done long stretches where I wrote 1,000 words a day, so I knew it was doable, but those last 200 daily words were almost always a slog.

I had originally planned, when I started outlining in October, to write the novel longhand. I really enjoy writing longer pieces in manuscript, I think it gives me a closer connection to what’s happening and slows me down. But the name of the game in NaNoWriMo, especially when you only have a commute and a lunch hour, is speed (plus I didn’t want to count all my words by hand). So I wrote on my iPad, propped on the seat next to me, using a bluetooth external keyboard. With the internet disabled on the iPad, I found that, on the commute especially, I could focus really well and just power through the verbiage. Even on weekends, when I had the luxury of a laptop to work with at home, I kept working on the iPad, partly for continuity and partly because it made me less prone to waste time on the internet or look at other open applications.

I used my writing tracker throughout the month to track my goals and tally my words. I learned fairly quickly that, because I was writing in two distinct parts of the day, the time-range model for how much time I spent really isn’t reflective of how I worked, so I’ll probably change things up in the new year and just track total duration, without tracking the time(s) of day that I worked.

The last thing I’ll say is that I’m really glad I did at least a little outlining and character work in October. While I’m sure a lot of people could jump into a novel and fly by the seat of their pants, having just a few structural hooks that I knew I was writing toward was a tremendous help on days where I felt stuck, or where the volume felt overwhelming. This is one place where all the screenwriting I’ve been doing really paid off.

What I Wrote

I should note that you write a lot of volume for NaNoWriMo, but most of the words aren’t great. There will be a long revision process after actually finishing the first draft of the novel.

The “cover” of A Crime Novel, from the NaNoWriMo dashboard.

Anywho, I started a crime novel that I’ve been cheekily calling A Crime Novel. It’s very much indebted to the Fargo TV series and (I hope) has a similar kind of wry humor. A Crime Novel was nearly the only thing I worked on all month, with occasional dips into a podcast project that’s currently in pre-production, and an on-the-side freelance project. It took me about 20,000 words just to feel like I was starting to get to know the characters, what all their desires were, what the world was like, and even how the antagonists’ scheme functioned.

What’s Left

I figure I’ve written about two-thirds of the novel at this point, which would make for (say) an 80,000-word final product, which sounds about right. I’m taking a break from working on the novel for a few days (and podcast recording will begin in the next week or so, so that will take up a lot of my time) and when I come back to it, I’ll probably throttle back to 1,000 words a day, on the days that I’m writing. (And hey, I might even take a weekend off.)

After finishing the rough draft, of course, I’m going to have massive amounts of revision. One side character is now (maybe) the main character, and there are all kinds of internal inconsistencies I’ll have to rectify.

Because it’s a crime novel, the details about how the central scam functions need to be spot on, and frankly I don’t know enough about healthcare accounting to make it all cohere at the moment. So, another thing that I have left to do is find some accountants to interview–I’m genuinely excited about this prospect, and to learn about their day-to-day functions (and how accountants go bad).

How Much

The Google Doc of A Crime Novel currently has 52,373 words. In November I wrote a total of 58,720 words (which I tracked using my homemade writing tracker). The additional words come from other side projects I worked on (like this blog) and a freelance assignment I picked up at the beginning of the month. I know, I’m disappointed that I didn’t hit 60,000, too.

I missed one whole day of writing to a migraine, but somehow managed to write double the word count the following day and managed to stay on track. (Unfortunately, that also meant that I didn’t get all the badges from NaNoWriMo this year. If you’re vain like me that kind of thing matters.)

My average daily word count was 1,957.3 (and yeah, I’m bummed I didn’t hit 2,000, also).

Would I do it Again?

I don’t know. NaNoWriMo definitely gave me a kick in the butt to get some writing done, and I learned a lot at an accelerated pace, but it also generated a lot of stress when I was already doing a lot of new things (e.g., new job, new commute). I think that if I maintained my 1,000-word days over a longer period, I would feel just fine. But maybe next year I’ll need another kick in the butt, and will hop back aboard the November novel train. Who can say?

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How’d it go? What kind of lessons have you learned from arbitrary writing goals?

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