This year, while I am participating in NaNoWriMo, I am not writing a novel. After all, I am not a novelist, but a short fiction writer. So I decided to make a slightly altered definition of NaNoWriMo the “No” part representing “novella” instead of “novel.” A novella, for those who don’t know, is the longest piece of “short” fiction. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) define it as something between 15,000 and 40,000 words. Most of the major short fiction markets abide by this definition. I was aiming for a 25,000 word novella. I would achieve my 50,000 words by writing 2 complete drafts in November.
Things went well for the first six days and then I kind of fell off the word cliff. True, I had a trip to the west coast in the middle of all of that, but let’s be honest, I could have written on the plane. The real problem was, despite planning ahead, I wrote myself into a kind of dead-end and I was afraid to tackle it. I kept putting it off and putting it off, and today, we are halfway through NaNoWriMo. People who are “on par” are hitting the 25,000-word mark today, while I have been stuck at 13,000 words for nine days.
But I am not giving up.
Over the last two days, I’ve read over what I wrote with an eye toward identifying the problem and correcting it. I think I have done that. Correcting it requires taking a new approach to the story, but that’s okay. My second drafts rarely look like my first. I went a little beyond just rethinking and identifying the problem. In correcting it, I also outlined a plan to finish the draft by the end of the month. My goal is still to produce a 25,000 word novella, but I tend to write long, so there is still a chance I’ll hit 50,000 words before the month is over.
Here is where I am today:
Note that I was initially ahead enough that it took 4 days for me to fall behind. Today I should be at 25,000 words but I am at 13,000 so the slope of my trajectory to hit 50,000 words is a bit steeper than 1,667 words/day. As indicated, I have to hit about 2,300 words per day. How will I manage this?
One problem I identified with my novella was with the overall structure, so I switched to a more traditional 3-act structure with a present and a past narrative interweaving, something I frequently do in my longer stories. In doing this, I made a careful map of what I had to achieve on each day. The first act should come in at roughly 5,000 words, the second at 15,000 and the third and final act at 5,000. Here is how I plan to make it happen:
- Act 1 (5,000 words): November 16-17 (~2,500 words each day)
- Act 2 (15,000 words): November 18-20 and November 23-27 (~2,000 words each day with 2 days off for Thanksgiving)
- Act 3 (5,000 words): November 28-30 (~1,667 words each day)
Of course, I’ve mapped it out in more detail than this. I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be writing each day, not just when and how much and that should help to keep me focused.
So tomorrow, I’ll be spending a couple of hours after the kids go to bed getting in my 2,500 words–or more if I can manage. And the next day I’ll do it again. And the next. But right now, I know what has to be written tomorrow and that’s what I am focused on. I may come in a little shy of 50,000 words in the end, but the result will still be a complete draft of a novella.
How is everyone else doing? Anyone still way ahead of the curve? Anyone struggling? Thinking about giving up? Don’t! Take a day to regroup, rethink, plan and start anew.