Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2010

So, I won. I finished my 50,000 words. And it does not feel like a victory. Not really.

Completing a first draft of a middle grade novel, which I did, feels more like a solid achievement. And that was my true goal this year.

Even the first year I did NaNo, my underlying goal was to learn about myself as a writer and about why I had failed to complete a book-length work of fiction in my previous attempts. In 2008, I learned I lacked a deep enough understanding of the writer′s craft to sustain a prose narrative for that length.

Decades of script-reading for theatrical production had taught me enough about story structure that I saw both glimmers of potential and glaring problems in my NaNoWriMo 2008 product, but I had no idea how to fix the problems.

So, I started studying the craft of writing. By the fall of 2009, I had learned enough to start with a different plan. And, about 10,000 words in, I realized my plan was insufficient. To write new text at the rate demanded by NaNoWriMo, I had to spend more time churning out words and less time noodling over characters and world-building issues. I needed to know what I was going to write in much more detail, so I could just write it. I didn′t complete NaNoWriMo that year and the draft is still incomplete.

Going into this year′s challenge, I prepared even more.

  • I decided to write for a market where 50,000 words is a complete story – a middle grade novel. I cannot sustain the pace of NaNoWriMo for long periods of time. I wanted a complete draft at the end of the month.
  • I wrote an outline. I divided my 50,000 word goal into 20 chapters and wrote scene descriptions for each chapters that I estimated at 2500 words a chapter. My outline followed the structure outlined by Larry Brooks of If I filled in those chapters, I would have a roughed out draft.
  • I plugged my outline and my word goals into Liquid Story Binder software so I could manoeuvre around my manuscript without having to learn any fancy features in my word processor.

While writing, I realized I had missed some important pieces of world development, but I pushed through with quick research and invention as my guides. There are sections of my draft where a scene involves ″[magical object]″ or other incompletely defined articles. I know the properties that I want [magical object] to have and some of the thematic resonances it would be useful to underscore with the choice of object, but I need to research before I settle on a specific object. This will be part of the editing process.

I struggled against the form imposed by the original outline. If I had given myself longer to write the draft, I might have revised the outline more while writing. However, by writing the scenes that I had outlined, I did complete a story that is not missing any crucial elements. I failed at estimating how long each scene would be. My chapters range in length from 1000 words to 6,000 words.

I have a lot of editing to do, however I believe that this year’s draft is editable. My previous attempts need full overhauls if I want to revisit the ideas and characters. This is a huge improvement. NaNoWriMo has worked for me as a tool for developing my craft, but only because of the work that I have done between Novembers and the challenges I have set for myself beyond the mere 50,000 words.

If I take part in NaNoWriMo again next year, I will once again plan on writing a middle grade novel. For one thing, I love middle grade fantasy and science fiction. But, more importantly, if I am going to write at a pace I cannot sustain, I need to end up with a complete draft. Nothing less will satisfy me. To write an adult or YA length novel, I will need to set myself different challenges and different goals.

In the meantime, my goal for 2011 will be to revise this draft.  And I will be learning how to edit a long piece of fiction.  And so, the mastery of craft continues.


About Kate Arms-Roberts

Posted on December 3, 2010, in This Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Kate,

    I didn’t participate officially in NaNoWriMo this year. But instead, I focused on trying to keep my own word count up each day. It’s surprising how much that required base word count can really eat at you. I did the math and it seems, if you average, it should be about 1600 words a day (roughly). Pushing to get those words on a deadline is incredibly difficult for some reason during NaNo. Oddly enough, I just reached my 50,000 and at I think because I did it in stride with NaNo but not part of, I may have a more solid draft. (Granted, I’m not completed yet). I think NaNo provides the oomph that we sometimes need even if it eats at us. It is a definite perk though that it helped you over the years find a strategy to work within its parameters. Congrats on the draft!

  2. Kate Arms-Roberts

    We all need to find what works for us. It sounds like you have a good thing going.


  3. You know… I read this and I’m thinking “How are you not thinking you succeeded?”

    You have: an editable draft, a much greater understanding of what you need to do to write a story quickly, and found a genre that works for you under these constraints.

    It sounds to me like you made a ton of progress. I’d call that a victory by nearly any measure.

  4. Kate Arms-Roberts


    I did make a lot of progress, and that feels great.

    The first year, when I won, it felt huge. This year, winning felt smaller, and I am very conscious of the amount of editing still required. So, intellectually, it seems that I made huge progress, but emotionally, it is very different.


  1. Pingback: Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious « Kate Arms-Roberts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: