The NaNoWriMo Conundrum

Ten years ago I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote the novel I’m currently querying. I took this strange, new approach to novel-writing and called it a vacation–I took a vacation from what I usually wrote, which is epic fantasy, and decided to experiment with urban fantasy. I allowed myself to try something entirely different and new, with the promise that if it didn’t go as I hoped…well, it would all be over in 30 days, anyway.

First, a little history

NaNoWriMo 2003 was a turning point for me. Not only did I try out a new subgenre, but I also investigated methods of plotting a novel; I realized if I wanted to write 50,000 words in 30 days, I would need to have at least a loose idea of where I was going from the outset. I bought a pack of colored 4×6 index cards and a pack of plain 4×6 index cards, and I started writing down possible scene ideas, one each on the white cards. The colored cards for were characters, so I wouldn’t forget what color someone’s eyes were or how tall she was, that sort of thing.

For NaNoWriMo 2004, I wrote a sequel to the first urban fantasy novel. During NaNoWriMo 2005 I wrote a third book in what was becoming a series. In NaNoWriMo 2006 I wrote a novel that featured some of the same characters as the first three, but also drew on three of the characters I used to write about in my creative writing program (where fantasy was forbidden). NaNovel 2006 was set in Indianapolis instead of Illinois, and the plot didn’t have anything to do with the series, but it was a lot of fun.

In NaNoWriMo 2007 I shook things up by trying to use NaNo as motivation to write a new draft of a novel I’d started in high school. That didn’t work, partly because there was too much world-building that needed to be done (I hadn’t touched the project for quite a while), so I kept that word count and worked on two shorter projects. With those three projects combined, I validated and won NaNo, but it didn’t feel as good.

One of my friends and I co-wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo 2008, which we knew was bending the rules, but hey, we’d both done NaNo before, so we didn’t care. In 2009 I lost NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. I was working on the fourth book in the urban fantasy series, and because it involved a lot of historical flashbacks, I was spending too much time researching and not enough time writing. I decided that particular novel wasn’t well-suited to NaNoWriMo. I had 35,000 words when I finally threw in the towel, and it was a huge relief, but there’s still that gaping hole in my NaNo wins.

I went to the amazing and wonderful Writers Police Academy in 2010, so I knew I wanted my main character for NaNoWriMo 2010 to be a cop. Not homicide, because those guys get all the glory. I came up with my absolute favorite first line of a novel ever written by me. I had tons of fun writing in Chloe’s voice, and I still love my paranormal crime novel. It needs some serious tweaking, but one of these days I’m going to go back to it, revise it, and query it.

For NaNoWriMo 2011 I made a return to epic fantasy. I’d taken a picture of a mountain in Glacier National Park that looked like it hid a dwarven kingdom. I’ve never been particularly fond of dwarves, but I was playing a dwarven hunter in World of Warcraft, and I just sort of got slapped up side the head with this plotbunny, so I took it and ran with it. I’d actually just quit my full-time job because of a combination of health problems and horrible work situation, so I thought NaNo would be easier. WRONG. Turns out NaNo actually goes better for me when I’m working full-time. I can’t say, “I’ll get my word count later today,” because I have a very limited number of hours in which to get them. When I’m not working, it’s so much easier to say, “I’ll write later,” and end up with not enough words. I won NaNo, but the novel wasn’t nearly finished when I hit 50,000 words, and I’m sad to say it still isn’t finished today. I took a break from it and…never went back.

I didn’t do NaNoWriMo last year. I was in the middle of revising one of my earlier novels, and I had some good momentum. I didn’t think I could interrupt that to write a new novel, and I didn’t want to be a NaNo Rebel.

This year, I’ve decided to take the plunge again. It’s one of those things that I always waffle over during most of October. And this year, I’m facing a conundrum that has me stymied.

The conundrum

I don’t know whether to be a NaNo Rebel and finish the companion novel to Stormsinger, or whether to go back to the beginning of my relationship with NaNoWriMo and treat this as a writing vacation.

See, I’m currently 20,000 or so words into The Weather War, and currently I hate it–which is typical for 20K, but I’ve also lost momentum on the novel because I put it on pause to work on a few short projects. So I could go back and try to hit 70K before the end of November. I love the plot and the characters of TWW, I just think most of the words I’ve written are utter shit. Which, again, typical for 20K.

But I have a Fae short story I once wrote that wants desperately to be a novel. It’s set in Indiana, which pleases me, and more, small-town Indiana, which is incredibly fun. My character carries, so I would be able to make a good case for going shooting as RESEARCH (thanks, Laura, for being an enabler). And I’ve been wanting to diversify my fiction a little–I write about way too many white Christians with English or Irish ancestry. And this project would definitely be easy to diversify.

OR…I could write an entirely fresh story. It would be set in Indiana, for sure, and it would be urban fantasy. It would involve guns, because shooting is RESEARCH, and it would involve the Fae, because FAE. But that’s the only thing I know for sure.

The indecision always lasts until midnight

Just like every other year when I’ve waffled about my NaNo project, I’ll be going back and forth in my mind right up until midnight on Halloween. Then I’ll throw my hands in the air, say “the hell with it,” and start putting words on the screen.

I could try going about it in a methodical, logical way. I could make a list of pros and cons for both of the projects. I could do exercises like outlining a novel in 30 minutes or sketch a novel in an hour or filling out the novel in 30 day worksheets. But where’s the fun in that? It’s so much more writerly to agonize and wibble and complain to my friends and roll dice or flip coins.

I’ll let you know in a couple days what I decide.

Novel Recommendation

My friend Laura Van Arendonk Baugh released Kitsune-Mochi yesterday! I’m one of the privileged folks who got to read an advance copy of the novel, and I have to say, it’s brilliant. The characters are wonderful, the setting is rich, and the plot is perfectly executed. I know, I know, I’m biased. But if you like Japan, foxes, fantasy, mystery, combat, or historical settings, you must pick up this novel. There’s a prequel novelette called Kitsune-Tsuki that you should read to be familiar with the characters, but it’s not strictly necessary. I’ve linked to the print versions, but there are also e-books available.


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