Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write

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What would winning look like?

So I mentioned I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year. Attempting. Whatever.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually expect to hit 50k. I’m not even going to try to aim for 50k. I’m aiming for 30k. I have a full time job that requires a lot of energy. I have a bunch of social plans I’ve already made for November, including several days around Thanksgiving. If I can average a thousand words a day I will be elated.

Why, then, am I doing NaNoWriMo if I’m not expecting to “win”? I hate losing, and I hate failing at things (or feeling like I’m failing, which I realize isn’t always the same thing). I expect to get good things out of this experience, but part of the point is to have that specific goal; since I’m not aiming for the mutually-agreed-upon target, here’s what I am aiming for:

  • I want to get back into the habit of writing regularly. Having a difficult but achievable word count goal (30k for the month/1k per day) will encourage me to stick with it and make it a priority.
  • I want to try to write faster and worry less about whether it’s “right.” It’s not going to be right on the first draft, and starting this during NaNoWriMo helps me give myself permission to go for quantity over quality. After all, it’s going to need tons of revisions no matter what I do; I might as well focus on giving myself something — anything — to work with.
  • I want to actually write this novel. It’s been kicking around in my brain making me crazy for seven years and counting, here, and I’d like to have something to show for it. If I can, by some miracle, write 50k words of it, that’s a big percentage of the project done. If I manage a smaller number of words — the 30k I’m aiming for, or even 20k — but build up good habits and momentum and keep myself excited about this project, that works too. But I’d rather have a smaller total word count and keep writing than hit 50k and give up.

So that’s what winning looks like for me, in case you were wondering, but mostly in case I get partway through November and forget.

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I don’t do NaNoWriMo.

I have friends who do NaNoWriMo. I’ve had Friends Who Do NaNoWriMo for over a decade now. But I don’t do NaNoWriMo, because I write slowly and I can’t make stories come together to deadlines and November’s a crazy month and and and.

All of my reasons for not doing NaNoWriMo are good ones, and they make a lot of sense for my usual approach to writing. This weekend, though, I was talking with a friend about her novel draft and my novel-thing and I realized that I’ve already done a lot of planning and plotting and character building for this thing. (I’ve been working on it off and on since late fall of 2008, after all.) And it’s already non-linear, so my usual need to let the first draft grow organically (and in order) doesn’t apply so much with this project. And my friend’s draft was peppered with notes about scenes for her to write later.

Sometime in the past 36 hours or so all these facts came together in my head and I realized: I don’t normally do NaNoWriMo, but maybe this year I could. And it sure would be nice to make some meaningful progress with this thing, to have a complete enough draft that I can actually work with it.

So I guess I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.