Last year, myself and most of my writing friends decided together to take on National Novel Writing Month. For those unfamiliar, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like; over the month of November writers everywhere challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel. It’s not really as tough as it sounds; provided you average around 1600 words a day, you’ll hit your target easily.
I took some convincing before deciding to tackle it; to me the very idea of forcing creativity like that was tantamount to sacrilege and completely at odds with how I write, but at the last minute I let go of my pretentions and decided to join in. And I loved it; not only the competitive nature of it, but the fact that making yourself write a certain amount actually tends to foster more creativity and ideas – something I’ve found this year with all the freelance work I’ve been doing.
There was also this wonderful sense of community to it, the fact that we were all in it together, all facing the same struggles, insecurities, pitfalls and elations as we aimed for that impossible seeming target. And the fact that we all hit it in the end was cause for a long night of celebration tempered with immense pride. Some of us had never written novels before; to manage your first in the space of a month is no mean feat.
It was pretty much a given that we would do it again this year; after the success of our collective 2016 attempt, why wouldn’t we? I even had the perfect idea for it; having spent a lot of time over the last few months writing a new and (hopefully) definitive version of Windmills and reworking the sequel I wrote in 2015, my head was squarely in that world and NaNoWriMo felt like the perfect opportunity to write the prequel I’ve had in my head for years. When the day came I made a decent start, and at first things chipped along nicely.
A lot has changed between last year and now. Last year I still had a day job that wasn’t writing related, one that afforded me a lot of time to work on stories while in the office. Last year I wasn’t really a working writer. This year, 10,000 words into my NaNoWriMo story I had to stop to work on a 15,000 word freelance gig I’d been putting off for weeks. Then others came up. Then I found my mind wandering to Sunburnt Country, my novella for the Seasons of Fear anthology that I’ve been itching to write a sequel to. And I really need to be working on Boone Shepard 3. Plus there are a couple of plays I’m keen to work on. This year, I simply haven’t had the luxury of putting everything else aside for a month to rush a novel.
At the beginning of November 2016 we all gathered in my house to make a start on our novels together, fuelled by beer and coffee and snacks. This made it feel like a group effort. But in 2017 I wasn’t the only one who had other commitments, and so we all started separately without really sharing our ideas. And the same enthusiasm wasn’t there. From what I’ve gathered, Carney was thinking about writing a Dracula anthology for it, but hasn’t started. Tom changed his story half way through and, true to form, Damo is the only one who has diligently kept up with his own project.
And there’s been another issue, one that actually makes letting NaNoWriMo lapse feel less like a failure and more like the right choice. Wolves, the novel I’ve been working on, feels really, really special. I can’t remember the last time I felt this invested in the journey of a character, feeling their emotions so keenly as they make the choices that will eventually damn them.
Of course, part of this has to do with the fact that the character in question is Dominic Ford, the crime lord villain from Windmills who I have been fascinated with since 2009, but the fact that this is a story that I’ve wanted to write for almost a decade is part of the reason that I’ve slowly realised NaNoWriMo probably isn’t the right way to tackle it. I want to take my time with Wolves, to feel it through and explore every beat and occurrence fully. Dominic Ford is probably one of my best characters, and as such I’m hardly going to rush his story to hit an arbitrary deadline. And I’m sure as hell not going to force it if other things are vying for my attention. Dominic has waited long enough to deserve my full focus.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Wolves, as the de-facto final part of what has become a loose Windmills trilogy, might well be the best of the three. It’s a Shakespearean saga of the slow moral erosion of a young man who starts off making the wrong choices for the right reasons and slowly turns into someone that even he can’t recognise. Naturally, having only written about 10,000 words, that suspicion may well change and there’s every chance I won’t even finish it. But if even part of me thinks that this could be great then the novel deserves every chance to reach its potential, and I’m not going to waste that potential just so I can gloat about another successful NaNoWriMo.
All that said, I haven’t entirely decided to give up yet. Inspiration may strike this week and I’ll quickly make up for lost time. But by letting myself off the hook now, I let the right ideas come to the forefront and can strike while the iron is hot, ensuring that my efforts are put where they are most useful. And Wolves isn’t going anywhere. It’s waited this long, it can wait a little longer.
Last year I wrote a gushing post about how great NaNoWriMo was, and I still stand by that. But if in 2016 I learned the lesson that sometimes forcing creativity is a good thing, in 2017 I learned that just because a certain approach works for one story doesn’t mean for a second it’ll work for the next.
Writing words about writing words.