Friday, December 1, 2023

Well, I did it

NaNoWriMo ended early for me...not because I gave up, but because I finished my novel on November 26, four days ahead of schedule.

This challenge was surprisingly easy for me. Once I decided to write at least 1000 words a day, I just committed. Most days I wrote closer to 1200, which was good because it meant I hit my 30k word goal by the 21st and then had time to reach my stretch goal and finish the draft.
It's been about 15 years since I've actually finished a novel, although I've started and abandoned quite a few, so I was surprised how effortless this felt. For the first time in years, I lost myself in telling a story, writing sometimes for hours without having to even pause to think about how a scene should play out. It wasn't as easy as it was when I was a kid, but it was way less painful than it's been in recent years.

I think there were a few things that made this all feel doable.
Zoe's moral support was, of course, invaluable.
1. For the first time ever, I was sharing my writing.

I am incredibly self-conscious of my fiction, but this time around I took the risk of looping Elizabeth into my process, and it made a huge difference. Writers who participate in classes and workshops will read this and roll their eyes, because it's obvious, but it was an eye-opening experience for me. I got so much out of it!

Sharing my writing gave me the chance to talk through my process, plot points, concerns, and goals in a way I never have before. Talking to yourself just isn't enough sometimes! After each day of writing, I'd send Elizabeth a section to read. That habit held me accountable, but it was also invigorating and made the process collaborative and fun. Having a reason to talk out loud about my progress was both motivating and helped me work through writer's block and moments of self-doubt.
Elizabeth was always excited to get something to read and it was fun to leave her on cliffhangers just to see her reaction.
She was always at least ten chapters behind me, so getting her feedback and hearing her thoughts, theories, and predictions was really fun, since I'd often be at a point where many of her questions had already been answered, unbeknownst to her.

2. I actually decided to write my subplot this time. 

In the past, I'd write the main plot of the story and let the subplot and secondary characters make progress "off screen", and then never go back to fill in the missing scenes, leaving my novels underwritten. I just find the secondary plot less interesting, and when you're writing for yourself...well, who cares what's happening with anyone but the main character? And, because I've never actually revised/written a second draft or had the desire to, the B plot would just never get written. 

Because I was writing this novel with an audience, and I knew I couldn't just skip the subplot. The result is a novel that's actually fully fleshed out and makes sense.

3. Perseverance is actually weirdly motivating. 

While the effortless, uninhibited, unself-conscious writing of my youth is gone, learning to write through tough scenes, or scenes I don't love, or scenes I don't have confidence in executing, built my confidence and gave me a sense of accomplishment while I was writing, like a positive feedback loop! The more I overcame the hard parts, the more confident I felt about continuing.
Recording my progress on the NaNo website and watching my dashboard stats update was highly motivating.
4. Along the same line, writing every day made writing every day easier.

The more practice I got, the easier writing became. But also, it really helped to sit down each day and have a fresh memory of where I left off. When you've let a draft languish for six months, you tend to forget what the hell was happening in the last scene, let alone in the last few chapters.

5. This time around, I have a job with some flexibility and less mental load.

It's no surprise I was in college the last time I finished a novel. Once I graduated, I went into one of the most mentally-exhausting, creatively-draining occupations I could've chosen. As a teacher, I was always tired and mentally depleted. There is really something to be said for work/life balance and the ability to enjoy my hobbies again! 
Did I flex my work hours to get my writing done when I was most motivated? I'll never tell...
This challenge wasn't all effortless joy, of course. I faced two major difficulties. 

1. The first was overcoming my tendency to quit when faced with technically difficult or complex scenes. 

It's daunting to see a high-action or emotionally intense scene in your head and know it won't translate perfectly on the page. That's just the nature of the written word. Having no choice but to power through made me a stronger writer, but there were at least two times I wrote 300+ words and then deleted it all to start fresh when the scene didn't feel right.
Relatable. Obligatory: I am not OP lol.
2. The second major difficulty was the existential dread of being done with this novel. 

I wasn't scared that I couldn't finish it; my fears revolved around doing just that. A small part of me was worried I'd feel a sense of such accomplishment that I'd never want to write again. I worried about losing all motivation and drive to write. I think that worry in particular came up because it's been so long since I've consistently finished a work and dived into another that I was anticipating a long lull.

Another part of me worried I'd never have an idea for another novel. I worried about the post-race blues but...for writing.

You know what I mean: the letdown you face after a major event you've built up toward is finally over and you're left thinking, "Now what?"

That feeling is still sort of lingering. When I wrote the final line and realized everything had tied up pretty much as I had hoped, I drew in a deep breath and just stared at my screen. I expected to feel exultant but really I just felt...nothing. 
Now I just have to decide what the heck to title this thing.
So I'm still a little numb right now, a little bit in disbelief, but in a few weeks I'll print the manuscript out so I can start revisions, and I think having it in hand will help drive home that I really did it. I wrote another novel, after years of stagnation and doubt.

More importantly, I've rediscovered the joy in writing fiction and my passion for it. I've missed this part of my identity so much; it really does feel wonderful to have it back.



  1. Congrats Ali! It's always satisfying to do something that you love and come in ahead of the deadline. I like the idea of having a friend to read your work and of mapping out the subplots.

    1. Thank you!! It definitely feels awesome to be reminded that I can do something like this.