Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Definition of Insanity

Some people will look at NaNoWriMo, this quest to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and consider it crazy on principle. But that’s not the part that’s making me question my sanity. 

I love NaNoWriMo. I love the camaraderie, the energy, the creative freedom, the rush. It was instrumental in getting me back into creative writing after years of only writing essays, reports, and lesson plans, so I’ll always be grateful. 

But after five years of winning NaNoWriMo yet not getting much closer to my novel-writing goals, I’ve started wondering if NaNoWriMo is actually productive for me... if I’m not, in that classic definition of insanity, doing the same fruitless thing over and over and expecting different results. 

It’s always the same. I sign up for NaNoWriMo. Through a combination of stubbornness and sleep deprivation, I win NaNoWriMo. After a break, I look back over my mess-uscript. I ponder and edit and and… give it up as unfixable. I either decide the story needs to be locked away, never to be spoken of again (my first 2 NaNo Novels) or drastically changed and rewritten from scratch (the case with the concept I’ve been working on in various forms every year since). But rewriting it from scratch is so daunting that I generally poke at it for a while, try and fail at outlining, and then wander away from it and work on short stories instead. Eventually autumn rolls around, and I somehow talk myself into taking on NaNoWriMo again, and the cycle repeats.

(from grad school finals week, which feels oddly similar)
The point of winning NaNoWriMo my first year was to prove to myself that I could write that much at once, and to relight my fire for writing. It was totally worth it, no matter what happened to the story afterwards. But at this point, I have to ask myself, what’s the point of winning it if year after year I fail to follow through to a complete and presentable draft? What’s the point if I’m never able to share the story with anyone, much less try to get it published? Can I really figure out what my novel needs if I’m just rushing through it at breakneck pace, writing scenes out of order and focusing far too much on word count?

And yet, here I sit a week into November, enthusiastically and insanely doing NaNoWriMo yet again. 

Because… I have a competitive personality with somewhat of a masochistic addiction to massive undertakings.

Because… it’s not like I’m not writing much on the novel the rest of the year either, so I might as well get something down in November.

Because… I do learn a lot about the story every time I dive into it (just never enough, it feels like). 

Because… maybe I can do it differently this year. That’s at least what I’m telling myself. I can work a little more methodically, think more about the story, make sure it fits together instead of throwing together a random mishmash of scenes. I won’t entirely abandon the spirit of NaNoWriMo – the no turning back, no inner editor, just write the shitty first draft magic of it all – but I’m looking for a better balance of quantity and quality for myself.

That’s the plan, anyway. 

Why not try to write a different story, a brand new one for NaNoWriMo the way you’re supposed to? I considered it, but I just don’t have another idea that has capture me as much as this one. I could be entirely wrong, but I think my problem isn’t this story so much as fantasy world-building and plot construction in general. I’m still figuring out how to do it, and I want to try it at least once more in this framework.

So here I am, taking on this crazy NaNoWriMo thing again and trying to do it in a different way. I am very, very bad at not being competitive, but I’m doing my best to let the story come before the word count… while still, yaknow, racking up a respectable word count. We’ll see how it goes. 

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you figured out a way to make it work for you? 


  1. The one year I missed NaNo, I totally missed it - hopefully, I will not make that mistake again. :)

    This year, I'm approaching it a little differently, NaNo Rebel that I am - what was going to be a novel or a novella is now a collection of linked stories. I'm enjoying this process so far, and one idea has hooked me so that I've been working on that alone for awhile now. Will it grow into something more? We'll see....

    Good luck!

    1. I like that you're being a NaNo rebel as well :-) and the linked short story idea sounds perfect for you. Best of luck!!