Friday Speak Out!: Failed NaNoWriMo Attempts, Guest Post by Denise Jaden

Friday, December 13, 2013
If you’ve ever attempted to write a 50-thousand word novel in a month, you’re not alone. In fact, over three-hundred-thousand people around the world set that same goal each year during National Novel-Writing Month. They don’t all finish. As a matter of fact, most don’t finish. I’ve passed the official finish line each year since I started participating in 2007, but that’s certainly not to say all of my attempts have been successes.

There has been, for example, The Year of The Novel We Don’t Speak Of. In 2010, I went into NaNoWriMo without any kind of plan. I had a cool title, a character’s first name, and that was it. I pushed myself to write every day for the month of November, and came out on the other end with 50,000 words of mish-mashed ideas that really didn’t go anywhere. I still love the title, though!

I thought I had learned my lesson. The next year, I started November with a 38,000-word outline. Yes, you read that number correctly. This outline included underlying motivations, and hair colors, and the sound of even the most minor character’s voice. The result: at the end of my month of fast-drafting, I tried to read back my well-plotted novel, and it was the driest piece of rubbish I’d ever laid eyes on. There was no life to any of the characters. They were simply a transferred version of my story from outline to narrative, with really nothing extra.

The following year I went in with a plan that had been partially designed by my agent. I found partway through the month that I just had no love for the plotline of this story. It didn’t feel organic or like it was “mine.” I pushed my way through, forced myself to write it all the way until the end. Then I put it away, stating that “I hate that book!” I didn’t look back at it for A FULL YEAR. But when I did, you know what happened? I actually fell in love with it. With my renewed perspective, I knew exactly what needed changing, and that is one of my favorite books to this day.

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2007, and one thing that has been consistent is that I’ve learned something new every year. I’ve put a book together, Fast Fiction, which will be out from New World Library in February. If you struggle with motivation to finish, Fast Fiction includes daily inspirations, things I’ve said to myself over the years, which will hopefully help. If you, like me, struggle with how to go about outlining, my guided brainstorming and Story Plan should help. I can’t say I have all the answers, but I want you to know that you’re not alone if you’re feeling discouraged after this year’s NaNoWriMo attempt, and you should not let it stop you from trying again.

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Denise Jaden's novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon & Schuster), was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007. Her second novel, Never Enough (Simon & Schuster), took about eight years longer. Her first non-fiction book for writers, Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction, includes a variety of clear guidance and practical exercises to help writers get to the heart of their stories. Her second non-fiction book, Fast Fiction (New World Library) includes tips on constructing a story plan that works, as well as daily inspiration to keep writers writing, regardless of when the mood strikes.

Denise spends most of her time homeschooling her young son (who is also a fast-drafter of fiction) and dancing with a professional Polynesian dance troupe.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

Denise: Thank you so much for sharing your NaNoWriMo from the trenches stories with us. I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time this year (Well sort of, last year I just wanted to get a Middle-grade novel written that would be between 20,000 and 25,000 words by the end of the year. . .) This year, I was doing the whole 50,000 words with a YA novel and I made it to. . .27,000 words. I love the idea and like my characters. I will have to go back in and rewrite their voices--but I just ran out of time to finish it with the rest of life going on. One thing I am so excited about is that I have 27,000 words of a novel that I have been thinking about for years!

Lisa Tiffin said...

Thanks for this great perspective on nanowrimo. Will be interesting to see your book next year! My crit group and I always do a November challenge - sometimes nano sometimes a query or submission challenge.

Denise Jaden said...

Margo - yes, that's the thing, to come out of it with some new knowledge or some new writing to work with. Congrats on the 27k! That is a huge amount to work with!

Denise Jaden said...

Lisa - that sounds great that you've found a group of writing friends who challenge each other! I also have a group challenge on my blog each March, and it's a lot of fun (we also get a lot accomplished together, with each other's encouragement!)

Unknown said...

All your books look fantastic. I don't like external word counts put on me; I don't operate well that way, but I sure as heck admire the writers who tackle this challenge head-on!

Denise Jaden said...

Thanks, Julie! Yes, I think there are all different kinds of writers with all different processes. It's good to learn what works for each of us. Word counting or not, I love the momentum that comes in a month-long sprint.

Anonymous said...

Denise--I took my NaNo from last year, and worked on finishing it for NaNo 2013. It's at 76,000 now...still not finished, but it's closer.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. And that title you love...Perhaps someday you'll have a manuscript (you like) that goes with it.

Denise Jaden said...

Sioux - Congrats! 76,000 sounds like it must be getting quite close!

And, yes, I keep coming back to that title and wondering if I'm ever going to do something with it...

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