It’s been a little over a week since 2015 closed its doors on another (hopefully) successful NaNoWriMo. Everyone hopes to hit 50,000 words, but if you fell a bit short this year, try not to be too disappointed. Remember that NaNoWriMo is our way of banishing the perfection, doubt, and anxiety that causes some of us to rewrite sentences ten times before we’re even marginally satisfied. I had the opportunity to speak with two of my scribbling friends in the middle of NaNoWriMo this year about their adventures and how the event is about so much more than word count. So even if you’re already planning and plotting next year’s project, take some time to read through Storm’s and Whitney’s experiences as you reflect on the ups and downs of your own NaNoWriMo adventure in 2015.
What type of novel are you working on this year and how does it compare to the novels you’ve written in previous years?
Storm Nevel: I don’t really know what the genre would be called that my work would usually fall under. I guess modern YA fantasy? A lot of it is really dark as well. This book is more of a dark comedy/supernatural tale. Don’t get me wrong, I like vampires and werewolves as much as the next person, but I’ve always been really intrigued by ghosts. So it’s about ghosts falling in love.
Whitney Klahom Thompson: I’m actually doing something completely different this year, which is both exciting and terrifying. For the past four (yes, four!) NaNos, all the stories I’ve written have been set in the same universe and involve some of the same characters. This year, though, the story that wouldn’t let me go was a Victorian Gothic remix of sorts. Basically, I’m smashing together a bunch of underappreciated/underdeveloped/misinterpreted female characters from Victorian Gothic fiction (e.g. Alicia Audley from Lady Audley’s Secret, Laura from Carmilla, Christine Daae from The Phantom of the Opera) and making them team up to fight supernatural evil. It’s been fun.
Why do you participate in NaNoWriMo?
SN: I like the challenge of setting a goal and reaching it. I come from a long line of people with a lot of ambition and very little motivation. I’m constantly being thrown off track by another new idea that I just have to run with so it’s very easy for me to lose focus. Giving myself that narrow 30-day window makes it more real. “This is the goal. Here’s the time I have. What am I really capable of?”
WKT: It’s probably the best way I’ve found to actually get a first draft down on paper. Between the lofty word count goals and my own hypercompetitive streak, I find it really easy to hold myself accountable during NaNo.
Can you tell us about one of your most memorable NaNoWriMo experiences?
SN: This is actually only my second time actively participating in NaNoWriMo. The first time was about three years ago and I learned about it a week into November and I thought I should try to go easy on myself. So instead of writing a novel, I wrote a collection of short stories. I do not recommend this course of action. I drove myself crazy trying to keep track of everything and since I was horribly organized when it came to my writing at that point and hadn’t even considered making a chart (or anything remotely helpful) I ended up missing my word count by about 10k and feeling utterly drained. I burned myself out basically, a surprisingly easy thing to do, and needed almost three years to recover.
WKT: My third year, I managed to make it to 62,000 words before the end of the month, so that was pretty cool.
We all have so many different responsibilities to manage in our daily lives. How and when do you find the time to write while managing those responsibilities?
SN: I’ve been very fortunate these last few years to have a job that has a decent amount of downtime and a lot of scrap paper lying around. I come home at the end of a day with roughly a dozen or more little notes to myself or bits of dialogue that I’ve written throughout the day to organize. I also always try to give myself at least 30 minutes of just quiet to try and organize my thoughts.
WKT: If I knew, I’d be a lot more productive the rest of the year! I suppose for me, the fact that I’m not just thinking about my stories while I’m writing does a lot. I’ll be at work, filing and alphabetizing away, and the whole time I’m also thinking, “How is Flo going to find out Helen’s big secret? What if I have Caitlin do x instead of y – how would she and Kris react to that?” I guess I’m always writing, in a sense, and that makes me more motivated to put it all down on paper.
How do you keep yourself on task?
SN: I remind myself that writing is what I love. No matter how crazy and frustrating it can be, it makes me happy just to put words on paper. Plus, I like that tired feeling I get after real productivity has occurred.
WKT: Usually it’s easy for me to stay on task because I just really like what I’m writing. I like my plots and I like my characters, especially when they get to snark at each other. This year it’s a little more complicated because I’m effectively writing historical fiction, and I still find myself having to fact-check, which can lead to going down a Google rabbit hole if I’m not careful.
Some people are really particular about their writing atmosphere. Do you have a particular routine, regimen, or requirement that might seem odd to other people?
SN: I write almost everything in longhand before I type it up. I like how my handwriting looks and I like the feel of a writing utensil in my hand. I never start a new idea on my computer, though I have started writing something and then when I type it I’ll continue the thread from there. But writing longhand is definitely one of the things I have to do. I know a lot of writers prefer music when they’re working, and most of the time I do too, but there are times where there’s so much going on in my head/the story that I need total quiet to focus. I also read my work aloud, under my breath, to make sure what I’m saying and how I’m describing things is actually what I want to say and describe.
WKT: I’m really weird about my laptop battery. I’m the kind of person who gets freaked out if it dips below 70 percent or something, so if I can be plugged into an outlet, you can bet I will be. That’s the only thing I’m particular about, though.
What’s your favorite caffeine source?
SN: Green tea and/or blue raspberry Frooties candies.
WKT: Coffee with plenty of half-and-half, mochas, black tea (Earl Grey or Irish breakfast), and chocolate-covered espresso beans. If it has chocolate in it, I’m all for it.
Why do you write? Or why do you think you write?
SN: I know I’m supposed to say something about writing for the sake of wanting to write, but honestly I’ve wanted to be a professional fiction writer since I was 11 years old. I want to provide for my family with my writing. I feel that I have important and relevant things to say and I think my writing can help me say those things. I want my work to make a difference, no matter how small it may be. I have stories to tell and I plan on telling them to a lot of people.
WKT: I write because writing makes me push myself. I continually have to step into new shoes and see the world through fresh eyes. As a writer, I can pretend I’m an actress, a superhero, a pirate, or an artist – sometimes all at the same time.
Any encouragement or advice for your fellow NaNoWriMo participants?
SN: “Never give up, never surrender.” Sincerely. What you have to say matters.
WKT: Don’t be afraid to let your characters steer the story, even if you’re an obsessive planner like me. Sometimes they have great ideas. Let them speak.