Britt Aylen on her history of failing National Novel Writing Month -- and why she keeps going back for more.
They say the first sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If this is the case, then I may need some help. I've been attempting National Novel Writing Month for 12 years now, and I have failed every single time. And yet, for some reason, I have signed myself up again this year.
The idea of NaNoWriMo is quite simple: 50,000 words written throughout the month of November. Focusing on quantity over quality, writers are encouraged to word vomit for 30 consecutive days, and then worry about editing later. In theory, it should work. But in practice, it’s just not that easy.
I've tried different approaches. In the early days, I was a ‘pantser’, sitting down with some character names and a loose idea of plot that would soon unravel. In later years, I tried to plan every intricate detail. Character maps, family trees, outlines so thorough that I'd pretty much already written the thing. I've attempted crime novels, fan fiction, YA and memoir - but none of it has worked.
While each attempted novel has been different, the failures have all been the same. November 1st, I throw myself into writing, well over the required daily word count. Day two is the same. But as the week progresses, fatigue kicks in, and by day 5 I'm struggling to hit my targets. Then I miss a day or two, and by the end of the second or third week, I'm so far behind that there's no use continuing. So I accept my fate, and give up for another 11 months. In the past, I've blamed school exchanges, exams, or the busy pre-Christmas retail season. These days I don't have those excuses. The accountability lies exclusively with me.
Last year, I was more determined to win than ever. My novel was thoroughly plotted, and I'd even done a test run earlier in the year - writing 1000 words each day in May. But it was not to be. I yet again fell victim to my own NaNoWriMo curse. Despite employing all my best techniques - writing out of order, skipping scenes that I was having trouble writing, and most importantly, writing a story that I knew like the back of my hand - I still managed to fall further and further behind, until the 50,000 word goal was firmly out of reach. This time it hurt more than before; I thought I was finally ready to succeed.
Despite the repeated disappointments, for some reason, for NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo alone, I have remained resilient. This is surprising, because I'm generally not good with failure. While failing an exam led to me giving up piano lessons, and failing the beginner's "fresh meat" roller skating test caused me to abandon my dreams of playing roller derby, NaNoWriMo is different. Each failure only makes me stronger. And although past experiences would dictate that I'm no closer to winning - it's a great opportunity to learn more about myself as a writer, and about what writing techniques work (and definitely don't work) for me.
NaNoWriMo isn't just about word count. It’s about flexing your writing muscles and developing a habit. It's about trying new genres, and new plotting styles, and working out what sticks. It's about writing something - anything - just because you can. Finding the time to write is an important start - I've learnt that early morning writing is not for me, but I can sometimes squeeze in an extra hour before bed. The rest is just finishing the story. Remember: write now, edit later. Those typos and plot holes are December’s problem.
If the first sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results - maybe that's not what I've been doing after all. Each time I've signed up for NaNoWriMo, I've taken a different approach. Maybe I haven't found the winning method just yet, but after a 12 year long process of elimination, I must be getting damn close.
This could just be my year.
Header image: Flickr, Mateusz Lapsa-Malawski
Feature image: Flickr, April Killingsworth
Britt Aylen is a writer, content producer and weather presenter, currently based in Launceston, Tasmania. She has written for factual and children's television as well as various music publications, and has appeared at Noted Festival and the National Young Writers Festival. She tweets at @brittinboots and occasionally blogs at http://brittinboots.com.