After just over 25,000 words, I’m calling it quits on NaNoWriMo 2017. It was always going to be a tall order, if I’m honest – I noted before I began1 that I don’t have anywhere near as much spare time as I did last time I completed NaNo, and I made a promise to myself that if it started getting in the way of my work, I’d scale it back.
After my progress stalled in the second week2, I made a valiant effort to keep going but my workload increased and I sometimes found myself at 19.00 or 20.00 without having written a word. Often, at the end of a tough day, the very idea of sitting down and squeezing 1,666 words of fiction out of my brain was exhausting.
Yes, writing is hard – this is a lesson I learned long ago, and sometimes you just have to power through in order to breathe life into a worthwhile idea. But I’m not convinced my idea is good enough to be written. Or perhaps in rushing the execution I’m muddling the message.
I think the story I was writing started to lose focus because it wanted to be about too many things at once. Rewilding, climate change, AI government, human nature, the future of the web, data longevity – it was all a bit of a melting pot, and to pull off that kind of theme blending is a very subtle art. NaNoWriMo is not a subtle art; it’s the blunt task of hammering out 50,000 words, good or bad.
To make matters worse, I’m finding it difficult to switch off my editor’s brain and just write. There are consistency and continuity problems with the writing I can’t ignore. The economic and technological context of the story doesn’t make complete sense but I didn’t take the time to plan out all this beforehand.
There is a worthwhile story somewhere deep down, but I won’t find it in this draft, perhaps not even with these characters.
NaNoWriMo made sense for me when I was younger, less experienced, less patient, and less exacting. I don’t think it makes sense for me now. Writing is a slow process for me; most of the effort that goes into a book is mental, and only a fraction of a percent is actually about recording the words. Making marks with ink on paper or bytes in .TXT files is only the tip of a vast iceberg.
I suspect Brightened Earth will be one of those novels that simmers for years before I finish it. I consider Alpine Dawn, the novel I began six years ago and continue to pick at occasionally, an open project to this day.
It’s been worthwhile attempting NaNoWriMo again, but it’s taught me that I really don’t have time to write a novel in a month these days, and that some things are better considered over a long period rather than rushed.