Creative Fecundity: On the beauty of NaNoWriMo

I love NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated, in some fashion or another, nearly every year since 2002 — my senior year of high school, when I would print out each day’s composition and read it to friends during lunch. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, or simply Nano, is a challenge where writers across the world, of all ages and experience levels, dedicate themselves to producing 50,000 words during the month of November (that’s 1667 a day). Nearly 400,000 writers participated in 2016. I’ve talked a lot about my love for it on my personal blog.

From Unseen Fire began life as my 2011 Nano project, and I am so freaking proud that it’s a Nano success story. Much of the work done on it over the next few years happened either during Nano Novembers or in the Camp Nanos that occur in the spring and summer. Other years have featured a variety of other projects, some successful, some not. Two that I’ve worked on are WIPs that I’ll be drafting once Book Two of the Aven Cycle is finished — one, a space opera with a heroine inspired by Julie d’Aubigny; the other, a secondworld fantasy with star-based magic. There’s also been a fairy tale set in colonial Virginia rattling around in my head for quite some time that began as a Nano project in 2007; I hope it grows into a real project someday. When I was younger, the projects were frequently fanfic — something I have always and will always champion as excellent training for aspiring authors.

What I love about Nano is the freedom it gives my brain permission to have. When I’m racing to get 1667 words in, sometimes in as little as an hour to spare out of my day, there’s no room to hem and haw and fret over what I’m doing. I have to take an idea and run with it — or let it run with me. When I’m locked in combat with the clock, divergent thinking skills have to take over, and suddenly I find solutions to all sorts of problems.

For example: This year, my Nano project is trying to add 50k to Book Two, which should just about give me a completed first draft. This was also last year’s Nano project. I have not made a lot of progress since. Part of that has been because From Unseen Fire was still in edits, which both took up time and affected my ability to write Book Two (if things in Book One change, after all, I’d just end up rewriting). But part of it was because I was feeling a little hemmed in. Way back in early 2015, when a different publisher was considering acquiring the Aven Cycle, I wrote an outline, so that they’d have an idea of what the series would look like. I then updated and adjusted that outline a bit while working with my first editor at DAW, and as a result… I began to feel tied to it, as though I were contracted to that outline, not just to producing a second and third book. Over time, those ties began to feel like chains. Strangling, blinding chains.

So, on November 1st, I spontaneously made the decision to throw the outline out the window rather than trying to write to it.

I’m not scuttling the concept (or all of the 70k I already had drafted). Most of the character arcs will still be the same. But now, rather than feeling like I’m trying to color within very tiny lines, I feel so much freer. I’ve found diversions I would not have unearthed within that outline. I realized that, whoops, my male protag was nowhere to be found during the climax of the book — and since I realized that in the middle of a Nano sprint, I quickly figured out why that was, where he was, and what he was doing. I’ve discovered some new places to insert my antag’s POV.

Nano isn’t everyone’s style, and I totally get that. For me, though, it’s a yearly ritual that takes the brakes off my cart and lets me careen joyfully towards something new — even within an extant story. I am, in Nano parlance, a “pantser” — a writer who would rather fly by the seat of my pants than chart everything out ahead of time. I pre-plan a lot when it comes to my world and my characters, but much less when it comes to the story itself. I prefer to let that develop organically, and Nano is a brilliant way to access that spirit of creative fecundity.

I’d love to hear from Nanoers among our readers! What sorts of things have you worked on as Nano projects? How does it work for you? Are you a pantser or a plotter? And, if you want to buddy up, I’m CassMorris in the Nano system!

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Cass Morris lives and works in central Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. I’m in the middle of querying and editing and querying and editing a book I’ve been working on for two years, so this year I’m writing something completely new for Nano! I had a rough outline (arc, ending, mostly mood) and then pants in between.

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