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NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Laura K. Cowan, novelist, manuscript, novel manuscript, novel writing, short story collection, supernatural fiction, speculative fiction, fantastic fiction, find new authors, Neil Gaiman

A peek in my desk drawer, where three manuscripts are now nesting.

It’s now NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and that means us writer types dive into our offices and only emerge 4 weeks later with long fingernails and dazed expressions. This year, I wrote a novel rough draft in 3 weeks in July, so I know I can do this crazy feat of writing 50,000 words in one month. But it hasn’t gone as planned, and it’s only Day 3!

I decided I was more interested in a short story collection of supernatural fairy tales and stories of portals between the physical and spiritual realms than my novel idea, so I blasted off with that first, writing a 30,000-word draft in the last 7 days. No, that won’t count for NaNoWriMo since I started it early, and when I looked up the standard length for a short story collection (50,000 words) I happened to run across a blog post all about how unsaleable short story collections are (wee!). So, it’s time to get down to business with the novel.

But this morning I started writing my novel and was totally bored with it. And I’ve already wrestled with this problem before while plotting it, when I thought that focusing on the supernatural elements of the story would make it pop. But now… I don’t know. I’m reminding myself that this panic happens to everyone, in this case because I’m not in love with the words I write in rough draft form. And I have gone from 1 novel finished this spring, which took me 3 years to complete, to a second novel written in July (rough draft), to this short story collection written in just the last week. Several years ago I didn’t even know where to begin writing a novel, so I’m also reminding myself how far I have come and trying to give myself permission to play and not worry about the quality until later. Write first. Edit later. I know this stuff. What’s wrong with me?

Well, good old writers block. That’s what. Welcome to NaNoWriMo.

What I’ve Learned So Far from NaNoWriMo

Lesson 1: It is not only possible to write 50,000 words in 30 days; it’s pretty easy if you just keep pushing through. This has inspired me to try to write a novel every six months until I feel more comfortable with my writing style. But does this pushing through produce good fiction, or just a pile of words? I’ll get back to you on that. So far I can’t see the fiction for the words.

Lesson 2: Whether I’m drafting ahead of time or trying to dive into a fresh idea without much thought, there is a drafting process that occurs either on note cards or on the page. I think this is what derailed me this time. I was thinking out my plots while writing, which resulted in a clunky, awkward prose of “He did this, and she did that” with no variance to sentence structure. Can I learn to go back and write around this framework to create something beautiful, or is this just the wreckage of trying to write too fast? I’ll get back to you on that, too.

I’ll see you in December… after I clip my fingernails. Welcome to an inside peek at NaNoWriMo, street level view. Even if this results in a 50,000-word grocery list of cliches, I’m doing this. And hopefully I’ll have something worth reading to share with you when I’m done. Something tells me this is exactly how it’s done.