For those of you following me closely on Twitter (@scifrey), you’ll know that as of Saturday October 30th, I reached my 30 000 words. This is the first year that I hosted NaNoWarmUp, and as far as I can tell only one person was actively participating with me – she was 2 000 words away before a torn shoulder kept her from finishing up her count – but even then, I think the two of us learned a lot from it.
Firstly, I was really glad I did this, because starting cold November 1st is tough. Starting cold on plot, character, and tone is hard with NaNoWriMo, and that is what I actually find one of the most difficult challenges – diving head first and spending a significant amount of time with a person that I don’t know anything about. Sure, I can plot and plan my MC to death before hand, but when it comes to actually writing my MC on November 1st? Tough.
Generally speaking, I know always end up scrapping at least a third of my first few chapters when I begin a new novel, because it takes me 10 000 words or so to get to know this new person. I call it my “dating phase” – where you go for dinner and talk about inane things over cheap wine and try to decide if you want to commit any more time and resources to that other person.
Usually I end up doing away the whole first chapter and either starting with the second chapter or just writing a new one.
Doing the NaNoWarmUp helped a lot, because I had two whole months and 30 000 words in which to get to know this person and safely scrap that third of novel. I actually ended up writing about 33 000 in total, but after a really good set of critiques from Adrienne Kress about the difference between my usual writing style and the YA style that I am trying to twist my words around into, I ended up scrapping most of the first chapter and starting again.
The NaNoWarmUp gave me the opportunity to do that safely, to push and pull and tug my narrative into shape, to figure out how my MC talks and when, and what structure style I want my chapters to follow. With four chapters finished, I can safely say that I know how this book sounds, where it’s going, and how it has to go together. This means that as of this evening, when I really get to dive in and get a good start, I have a great sense of where I am going and how I intend to get there.
Starting cold on November 1st, with no writing in the world done, just makes the excursive of hitting those 50 000 words harder. Now, some people have pointed out to me that doing this WarmUp is effectively cheating at NaNo – I would argue that it isn’t. The rules say 50 000 words on a novel. It doesn’t say that you can’t have started the book already, and it doesn’t say that you have to start cold on November 1st. It just says that you have to write 50 000 words on a single work in thirty days. And I think having a decent chunk of the work already down on paper – the stuff that happens at the start that always stump and trip up people in the second week of NaNo, like the world building, getting familiar with the voices and gestures of the people, the first line of the book – can only help people get through those 50 000 words with significantly less stress and less wasted time dithering and experimenting. It’s like a steam engine – the machine is warmed up, the coals are hot, the stacks are puffing, and I’m hitting November 1st at top speed.
Doing those 30 000 words over two months gave me lots of stress-free time to get to know my novel, to “Date it”, before getting married to it on November 1st. There’s nothing worse than getting out of that first-week-of-November honeymoon period and realizing that the book you’ve married is an awful slob who can’t pick up its own plot threads, and belches in the livingroom.
The second thing that I’m glad I did NaNoWarmUp for was that it helped reintroduce me to that writerly discipline that I am going to need for the next month. I’ve said it in other posts, but I haven’t really actively been writing in about nineteen months, focused instead on editing – especially my forthcoming novel Triptych. To sit down again in front of blank page with a mocking curser was challenging and a little scary.
Starting back in September, I’ve had a chance to work through that fear, to confront and abolish it, and to remind myself that, oh yeah, I actually like writing, and people like reading it. (Thank goodness for my friends, who are not too nice to not critique the hell out of what I show them, but are nice enough to send me emails that consist of only “ZOMG MOAR NAO PLZ KTHXBAI”.)
Now I’m married, I have 50 000 words to do, and I’m back in the groove. Best of all, I’m going to have 80 000 words when I hit December 1st, which is the average length of a YA novel in the current market. Better than that, the novel will be in better shape and closer to being ready to send out on queries, because I’ve already spent two months massaging the narrative into shape. I’ve done the hard part of stumbling all over the first third of the book, and now it is a well-oiled machine, ready for me to build its back half.
I know the story, I know my characters, I know my aims – now all I have to do is sit down and write.
I will definitely be doing NaNoWarmUp again next year, and look forward to seeing if anyone else will do it with me.