The National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) has been a staple for me ever since I wrote the first draft of Shafter in 2004. I’ve finished as early as on day five and as late as within 10 minutes of the deadline (when the validator’s count differed from mine by some 200 words). As far as that goes, this year was in between. Not a huge splash, but I finished at 4pm with lots of time to breathe had I known they’d dropped the validator step.
The last bit kind of symbolizes my relationship with NaNo. It’s a fabulous concept, and I love how it helps so many people, but I don’t participate in the traditional ways. I try to show up at the first local meeting, and at least one write-in, but I rarely do. I often make the after party, but not always. The forum might see me once or twice if at all, and I have little time to read the encouraging essays and other materials made available. If I’d read them, I’m sure the validator question would have been answered long ago.
However, I’ve made lifelong friends out of writing group gathering either during NaNo or because of it. I keep tabs on my local NaNo buddies throughout the year thanks to a Facebook group for NaNo locals and not so local. I encourage people to take the chance to discover if the sheer energy of so many people pushing for a win (or even just to write more than they’ve managed before) will help. What started out cursed by many “real” writers is now part of as many, if not more, professional (indie or traditional) writers’ annual plans.
This year, though, more than ever before, NaNo gave me a gift. More than when I finished Shafter’s first draft with some 116,000 words, or the years when I picked up a second novel having run out of the first. No, this year the NaNo habit brought me back to writing.
Like many creative souls, 2020 was hard on me. But as much as the external issues drained me, my writing suffered from the accelerating tumble of my health issues. I’d been trying to keep quiet of the extent in hopes I could work my way around it somehow, but I’d started to wonder if my writing days were over. If the books my parents wanted to share with the world, or those no one has read since I completed the first draft, not even me, would never leave my hard drive. I’d been having ideas, good ones even, but beyond some pre-work, nothing had come of them for some time.
I blamed the massive edit project that was Apprentice, the political climate, the climate climate, and anything that I could put my hands on. Ultimately, it came down to the time, energy, and physical therapy necessary to keep me upright. And the inability to drive long enough to reach green spaces to revitalize my spirit didn’t help. These swamped everything else. And when I did manage something special, I’d be looking at weeks and even months to recover. These facts didn’t help my mental state, but facts are facts.
I’d intended to come into this November prepared, over-prepared even, in a last-ditch effort to renew my writing faith.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I was left scrambling at the last second, making the desperate choice to continue what I’d done last year in redefining what qualified as writing to me.
Any working writer will laugh at the thought of non-fiction being off my list, but I didn’t have the energy to market and sell my articles. They end up posted to my blog or dumped into folders where they never actually get to the blog. Then there’s all the work behind the scenes for fiction, the world building, continuity questions, and the like. Necessary scaffolding, but never intended to see the light. Though I mined my daily journal (still only missed one day) for the articles, and sometimes fiction planning, it stood even farther from what I once would have considered appropriate for NaNo.
The key word in the above is “once.”
Part of accepting my disability has to be redefining what I do. I can no longer expect the consistent 5k-10k days. It turns out I can’t even stay focused on a single project. But what I can, and did, do is write. It’s no longer a question, if it ever was beyond my own personal nightmares.
I made significant progress on a novella that comes after Apprentice and bridges the gap between their training years and full membership. I’d call that a spoiler, but I’m not mean enough to hold my readers hostage for three books only to have Trina fail. Seeds Among the Stars is about the journey, the lessons she needed to learn, and the friendships she made on the way…with a bit of adventure tossed in there for fun.
I wrote a scene in one of the books that comes after Apprentice, though not the book I thought came directly after. That’s another thing I wrote and learned: the order of the “after” books. I’ve had at least three planned since Seeds became a series: Officer, Colonist, and Big Man. The last two may be mini-series as opposed to single books because they’re broad concept only at this point. While they existed, I didn’t know when they came in the overall publication timeline. Now I have a pretty good idea, plus there’s one other that has to happen first, the one I wrote on. There are also a number of ideas for more, but these are the key pieces.
Finally, on top of the journaling and blog articles, I wrote a short story based on Tibari. He’s a new character who sprang into being with such a strong, vibrant personality, I wanted to spend some more time with him…and so I did.
I’d intended to talk about my 6,300 day (including the above short story), the consequences of it, and dragging myself across the finish line through sunshine and pure stubbornness, but I think this is a better testament to what NaNo means to me and many others. It’s something I’ve planned to skip and never have; something I thought I couldn’t do until I did; and something that restored my faith when I’d all but given up.
That’s what writing alongside more writers than I can count offers. It’s a precious gift I plan to treasure every November going forward. Though next time I want to be prepared, darn it!
And stats, so you can see the things I didn’t bother to say yourself if you want to.