Monday, December 5, 2016
By Kristy McCaffrey
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each November, writers everywhere attempt to write a novel in 30 days. To ‘win’, you must write 50,000 words. This is approximately the length of a long novella. My books tend to run between 70,000 and 85,000 words, so this endeavor doesn’t yield a complete novel for me, however, I’ve always made an effort to get to THE END by skipping scenes and lengthy descriptions along the way.
I’ve just completed my second NaNo and I’m happy to report that I met the goal of 50K. But it wasn’t easy. NaNo never is. That’s the point. It pushes a writer to their creative limits and beyond.
To reach 50K in 30 days, a writer must punch out 1667 words per day. Since there’s a U.S. holiday smack-dab in November (Thanksgiving), I set a goal of 2000 words per day. This would give me some cushion and allow me to take a few days off while I had a house filled with family. It also provided a buffer for those days when the words just weren’t flowing, as well as the unexpected event (mid-November my husband and I had to transfer our youngest daughter rather abruptly from boarding school, throwing a stressful wrench into my schedule).
NaNo teaches discipline. For me, writing 2000 words (4 single-spaced, typed pages) often takes several hours. And some days, it was so bleepin’ hard. I knew my story, I knew the main characters (well, kinda), and I knew the pathos I was searching for, but writing them down is always something entirely different. Scenes veer off-course and characters behave differently than imagined, and because of the pace of NaNo there’s no time to breathe. No editing, no languishing in research books searching for ideas to spark my ideas. In some ways, it’s a bulldozer approach. But it is effective.
I now have a beautiful, somewhat messy, first draft. Even better, I know my hero and heroine in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve been in the trenches with them. I’ve found their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Now, I can revise and use these to the advantage of the story. But there’s also a slew of inconsistent plot points, repetition, characters who serve no purpose at all, and what I call ‘pivoting’, when I made a major change mid-story but didn’t go back to fix the earlier parts—I moved forward as if I’d already changed them. If anyone was to read this first draft, they would surely say: What were you thinking? But this process is highly productive, which is why so many writers participate each year, logging into our accounts each day to post our progress, reading motivating messages from big-time authors, and tracking the momentum of our writing buddies. NaNo brings out our competitive nature and that’s not a bad thing. It’s the Ironman event for writers.
The manuscript I produced isn’t my usual stuff. With the conclusion of my Wings of the West series this year, I decided to take a break from historical western romances and write something else I love—women exploring the world. Tentatively titled DEEP BLUE, this first book in a new series is a contemporary romance set against the backdrop of great white shark research. My heroine, Grace, is a marine biologist who likes to get up close and personal with her subjects. The hero, Alec, is hired to film a documentary about her, to aid Grace in her quest to provide conservation measures for the sharks, but he’s also haunted by a previous expedition that went horribly wrong. His growing feelings for Grace leave him conflicted about how far to push the boundaries between humans and the great whites that inhabit the waters around Guadalupe Island in Baja California.
It’s my hope to have a revised manuscript completed in the next several weeks and release it in the spring of 2017, if all goes well. Thanks to NaNo, the most challenging part is complete—the first draft. Facing the unknown abyss of a story can be disconcerting. NaNo forces a writer into those murky depths. It’s true—creative undertakings can be frightening and writers often develop sly little evasion mechanisms to avoid facing a blank page and the daunting task of writing an entire book. But there’s no magic formula—it’s all in the baby steps and steady progress, and NaNo provides that in a very compressed and intense atmosphere.