Productivity is what I’ve been striving for this month in terms of writing, at least in theory. I’m not looking to produce a perfect draft, I’m just looking to produce a draft and win NaNoWriMo for the third straight year. This particular project is a case of “be careful what you wish for” in that regard, because there’s kind of a draft, but it’s bad, even by NaNo standards. There are a lot of factors contributing to this, not the least of which is the fact that I didn’t prepare nearly as much as I should have for this story and I’m using what are known as “word wars” to push me forward.
A word war is a small chunk of time, usually around 15 minutes, where participants write as fast and as much as they can the entire time. Emphasis is placed on continuously moving forward and never hitting the backspace or delete buttons no matter how egregious your typos. If you’re at an in-person event, typically the person who writes the most words is given a sticker or other small prize and is ineligible to win the next war to make it fair for other participants. There are multiple word wars per event (and a Twitter account dedicated to the purpose that runs 24/7) and some downtime in between wars. There are a number of participants who only write when word wars take place that are still able to meet the 50,000 word goal with time to spare.
On a good day, I can clock about 89 WPM when I type, but I’ve been known to get as high as 96 and tend to drop to the low 60s if I have to type numerals just because I find them awkward (I thank my 9th grade keyboarding class as well as over a decade spent on Microsoft Word for work as well as recreation). In a 20-minute war, depending on the distractions in the immediate area and whether or not I know what I’m writing next, I can get anywhere from 700 to 1,400 words. For the purposes of NaNoWriMo, it really is a great way to get your word count up: a lot of hesitation, at least for me personally, comes from not being sure what to write next, and the pressure of the clock is a good way to simply blow through your doubt and come out the other side ready to tackle more important parts of the plot. As an added bonus, if this is the kind of thing you’re into, the competitive angle makes it the closest thing to an interpersonal competition you get during what’s otherwise a purely personal challenge.
However, the bulk of my writing for NaNoWriMo was not actually done during word wars until this year. I was not an active participant in the community my first year, and for the most part I used the website to keep track of my own word count without interacting with anyone else. Most of my writing was done whenever I had the opportunity, especially because at the time I was working a full-time job and wouldn’t have been able to make it to any in-person events. I made it to the goal, but only after a truly epic comeback because I quit halfway through and bounced back, and even then I barely hit the goal.
My second year was a dramatic improvement. I had a very immediate, very visceral connection to my idea that made it easy to write. I spent the entire month of October prewriting, jumped on the chance to work on it every moment that I could, stayed ahead of the prescribed word count goal the entire month, and ended up finishing at over 67,000 words just because I was having so much fun. I was also an active participant in the community, so I was bolstered by word wars as well as people who were excited to hear about my ideas.
This year I’m a bit more physically removed from the Detroit community as well as a bit busier, which makes it harder to get that support. I didn’t have as much of a connection to this year’s story and didn’t have time to plan it all that well, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to get words down. As a result, in order to move forward, I’ve been relying on word wars to try to get the story down rather than just using them: I’ve been hoping that I would eventually push myself into the main plot simply by throwing enough words onto the page, but to no avail. Now, I’m a little over 12,000 words in but don’t have anywhere to go, so I’ve been stuck at that level for almost a week.
It’s frustrating. This idea sounded so awesome in my head, but I didn’t have the resources built up to make it good. Even if I did what some people do and throw in “[SKIP THIS PART AND COME BACK TO IT LATER, JUST MOVE ON TO THE COOL PARTS],” I’m not sure, at this point, that I would know what the cool parts are or how my characters would react to them. I felt as though my characters were developed, but my lead reminds me more of the tortured half-angel, half-demon that lurks so often in fanfiction. I’m not saying that this technically isn’t the case for him, but it shouldn’t feel so obvious or so bad. What came across as development when I was thinking is, in practice, superficial at best: had I done all the research that I should have, I’d have the resources to be able to know him on a level other than “All right, you’re angst-ridden and enjoy torturing yourself by walking the Earth thinking about it. Great! What else is there?”
My worldbuilding probably wouldn’t be suffering so much if I had prepared, either. I don’t even know what this world looks like other than being various shades of Post-Apocalypse Gray, so I’m having a hard time describing it. The vast majority of the pages are my lead character rambling to himself, and what’s left is a few clumsy scenes of dialogue where I tried to shoehorn something different in. Normally, when I write something I’m having fun with or getting swept up in, things feel natural to put in particular places, where right now, a lot of my creative decisions are based on “Well, I’ve been at this for a while, better do something different. How about some dialogue? Or a description? A new character, even? Those ought to take up a few thousand words.” I’m treating it like an assignment or checklist rather than the creative romp that it’s supposed to be.
There’s NaNoWriMo Bad, and there’s BAD. I didn’t realize that the tentative title of Salvage would become so darned ironic: what I have so far is a massive step backward for me, and I almost feel as though it would be detrimental to continue. The only problem with switching stories partway through, like some people do, is that those stories would be even less prepared than this one was and will therefore be much, much worse.
So there’s my progress update for you. I stalled out after a week because I didn’t plan enough. At least I’ve confirmed that I’m a planner at my core. But now I’m stuck with something that, frankly, wouldn’t qualify as toilet paper. What I’ll end up doing, no matter what happens by November 30th, is shelving the project altogether, waiting until I do all of the research and thinking that I need to, and then starting from scratch with a real first draft. The question at this point becomes whether I write to the end goal to see if I can make it work or just cut my losses and move on.