Me No NaNoWriMo. You, though? Go Go Go!

Now that we’re nearly a week into November, I think I can call it. I am officially not participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo. For the sake of completion, I’ll also note that I’m not doing Movember or that other challenge, either. However, as a past participant (of NaNoWriMo), I figured I would share my experiences in case some other soul can find them useful.

I did NaNoWriMo kind of on the sly in 2018. If you’re someone who knows me, you may be thinking, “Wait, what?” You’re not alone. Until I hit publish on this blog post, a grand total of maybe four people on the planet know I did this, and I’m not sure about the fourth. Even Chandra wasn’t aware until a good way through the month. I know a big part of NaNoWriMo is the community, sharing your progress, etc etc…but I didn’t care about any of that. For me, it was enough to have a launch date to start drafting, and a target date to see how far I could get. Plus, I had seen some advice that you’re better off not sharing your goals, and it seemed reasonable to me.

The TL;DR of my experience with NaNoWriMo is:

  • Did I finish the novel in November? No.
  • Did I finish the novel at all? Yes!
  • Did I learn anything? Oh, hell yes.

Knowing that there’s a link up top to Conviction, I should clarify something before going any further. Conviction is not a product of NaNoWriMo. That’s actually my second work of long-form fiction, and is technically a novella anyway, so wouldn’t have counted. What I’m talking about here is a YA novel titled Augusta Quilliam Gets Ahead of Herself. I’ll just refer to it from here on out as Augusta.

Moving on…

One month is…not a lot of time to crank out even a rough draft of a novel, at least for me. In order for me to pull that off, I would have to know exactly where it was going from start to finish, and I would have to have more than just spare time dedicated to the effort. Since I both have a full-time job and spend a good amount of time staring into space when I write anything, there just aren’t enough hours or energy to hack out 50,000+ words in thirty days.

But— even though it took a bit longer, I did eventually finish Augusta. The timeline gets a little weird, because when I got to the end of what I thought would be the first draft, I realized that the story had a giant hole where the third act needed to be. This was I think in December or maybe January. It wasn’t until May that I felt like I was really done with it. 97,300 words. Whew! By the strictest definition of NaNoWriMo I missed the deadline by a good five-plus months, and overshot the target by nearly 50,000 words, but I still consider that a success.


. . . .

Not really. I didn’t just want to finish the novel. I wanted it to be good. That takes more work.

Next up came a round of reader feedback and revisions, leaving me with a novel of 92,700 words, followed by a more robust round of professional feedback (from Kat Howard, who I highly recommend). Among other things, that included a note that in addition to the suggested changes, I needed to get the word count down to a more acceptable YA range of 50-80K words. Oof. Double oof, since I knew there were significant bits I needed to add in order to flesh out why one of the characters acts like such a dick.

So, more edits and more reworking, until by late October I got to a final word count of 79,400, almost a full year after I first started drafting Augusta.

Awesome. When can I find it at my local bookstore, Jason?

Um, don’t hold your breath. I did take the first steps towards getting Augusta traditionally published, which meant writing up synopses, extracting the first X pages or chapters, and sending those with query letters to agents. As anyone familiar with this game is probably expecting, I got rejected by all of them. The first one made me feel like a Real Writer™, but it didn’t take long before the novelty wore off, and I lost interest in the whole process. I know, I know, Harry Potter got rejected a bazillion times, I should keep at it, blah blah blah. The thing is, it turns out spending hours hunting for and contacting agents only to have a slow parade of “no thanks” weeks or months later isn’t my idea of fun. It’s not that I find rejection difficult, and I recognize that it’s all just business so I don’t take it personally, but the hunger just isn’t there to put up with the hassle. (And if you’re paying attention, yes– somewhere in there 2020 smacked us all in the face, but this is one thing we can’t blame on that.)

Not that Augusta will never see the light of day. I do have a web site, after all. 🙃

I will say that even if Augusta never gets past the confines of my hard drive, writing it and taking it as far as I have has been an excellent learning experience. Just as they say reading makes you a better writer, the reverse is also true. I think I get more out of the books I read having done this, and not just because now I read the Acknowledgements section— a habit I picked up while looking for agents.

…and for those pursuing NaNoWriMo this year or any other, have fun with it and remember— this is the easy part.