I don’t do NaNoWriMo.
I tried. Twice. The first time I completed the first half of YA novel. About 100 pages. The second time, I used NaNoWriMo to complete the second half of a middle grade novel that I’d been struggling with for weeks.
Both those novels are still sitting on the proverbial shelf.It was time to Nanu Nanu to NaNo.
I’m a former journalist, trained to write quickly and accurately under daily deadline pressure. I’m also (mostly) a pantser. So one would think I’d find the NaNo process appealing. I don’t. And after enjoying everyone’s blog posts all month, I gave some serious thought as to why that is.
Here’s what I considered. With non-fiction writing, I can write fast—much faster than fiction, in fact—but that’s only because by the time I sit down to write a news article, feature story, or profile, the heavy lifting is done. I’ve completed the interviews, the research, the thinking. The writing goes quickly because I’m ready to write.
Fiction is different, of course. But some of the same groundwork goes into writing contemporary and romance novels—interviews, research, thinking. But for the most part, with my type of novels at least, I’m making stuff up. Still, that requires thinking. As writers, we all know that “thinking” takes on many forms, from staring out a window, to walking the dog, to taking long drives with your novels' playlist playing. These activities are not always conducive to daily word counts. In fact some might call this procrastinating. And they’d be right, because it is. But it’s procrastinating with an endgame in mind—being ready to write when you sit at the keyboard.
So I’m not just a pantser, I concluded. I’m a pancrastinator.As a pancrastinator, the process of completing a novel takes me anywhere from nine months to one year. I spend a lot of time reworking my early chapters, adding layers and making sure they align with what I’ve just discovered about my character on page ninety-nine. I try to keep the three-act structure in mind as I write, making sure my characters and plot hit certain marks by certain pages. At some point, I do wind up tracking my scenes, either formally or informally, and I’ve been known to make note cards, usually when the first draft is close to being completed.
Ultimately, though, when I finish a first draft and print out all the pages to begin editing and rewriting, I always marvel that it actually got done. I’m never sure how or when it happened. (It’s a little like that old tale about the elves and the shoemaker.) It would be difficult for me to teach the pancrastinator method to anyone else, and I would strongly caution against it. But thankfully, it has worked for me.In addition to being a pancrastinator, I’m also very superstitious. Now that NaNo has produced two flops for me, I no longer trust it to give me the good juju. But I do love how it inspires others and shines a national spotlight on novel writing.