I’ve tried to complete NaNoWriMo twice in my life. The first time, I was in a tough high school program and was crazy to even try. The second time was last year (2016), and I actually (almost) succeeded!
So what happened?
I’m normally a plotter, and so for months before November, I worked on my outline, and thought of little scenes to put in the book, and made index cards, and made Myers Briggs profiles for my characters, etcetera, etcetera. I even created a writing routine. Being a full-time engineer who had just bought a house and gotten engaged, I didn’t have a lot of spare time, but I gave myself 30-45 minutes each morning and another 30-45 minutes after work to crank out the words.
Things actually went really well.
Keep in mind, I had been working on this same novel all year, and had only about 25,000 words before I had started NaNoWriMo. In November, I put down an extra 40,000 words. Not quite at the finish line, but the bulk of my novel was done before Thanksgiving.
So what’s the problem?
Well, my plotter self turned into a pantser. I ran into a snag early in NaNoWriMo — my main character was not jiving with her love interest. There was just no spark, and I really liked their personalities as is. I went ahead and gave her a new love interest. Well, that’s not just something you do when you’re writing 1600 words a day, and the plotline depends on it. When I realized how little time I had to think through the scenes, and the characters, and the ultimate plotline, I just went for it. I made key decisions every day at the keyboard, and let it all unfold.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to feel about it. My gut says there’s gaps, and some parts are too long-winded, and the main character is too reactive, and there’s not enough little bits of personality because how do you come up with those things on the fly, without more percolation?
So, I’m doing my percolation now. I’m thinking through the whole thing all over again, and trying to figure out which scenes to keep, to delete, or significantly modify.
I’ll let you know how it went when it’s over. In the meantime, I’d like to point out that if you’re swinging between pantser and plotter yourself, give the other side a chance. Without doing what I did–moving the dial each day, and letting myself be okay with mistakes in the future–I wouldn’t have gotten more done in November 2016 than I had in the last five years combined. So kudos to that!