NaNoWriMo this year was a struggle.
Hitting 50k wasn’t the hard part — in many ways, that was easier than the last few years. The hard part was finishing the novel, which I’d promised myself I’d do. I haven’t finished a first draft since writing Bard in March/April last year, and while I wrote a complete redraft of another book earlier this year, that’s not quite the same as getting to the end of something new. It’s been so long since I finished something that I didn’t entirely remember how to do it.
I mean, admittedly I’ve always been bad at endings, but I felt even less well-equipped to write one. So I told myself I’d write the whole book. I didn’t have to finish it in November, but I had to write every day. Even if it was just 500 words. I had to keep going beyond that 50k finish line and not let myself give up.
The result was probably the most consistent NaNoWriMo stats chart I’ve had in years (or maybe ever), and a far cry from last year’s frequent plateaus.
It felt like pulling teeth. Sometimes the last thing I wanted to do was put words on the page. Sometimes it was fun, but as the month went on, it felt more and more pointless. And endless. I didn’t think the book would ever end; it reached a point where I was at 80k and still hadn’t entirely figured out what the plot was, and that’s when I knew this book was doomed to be a terrible first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect any first drafts to be amazing, but I’ve written some decent ones that are relatively clean renditions of the story, even if they need a lot of polishing. This, however, was not one of those. It meandered. There were points where I couldn’t tell if I was just stuck in first draft doldrums or whether it was genuinely awful and pointless and a waste of time to write.
Did I finish the novel? Yes, eventually, about half an hour after NaNoWriMo ended. (I was 200 words off from 100k at midnight, so I gave myself it, then polished off those last 200 words and a few hundred more to get to the end of the book.)
But honestly, it was awful. It’s really hard to create any sort of resolution when, despite your best efforts, you still don’t really have a plot to resolve.
So was it worth it? Was there a point to forcing myself to write when I had other things to do and no energy to spare, or was it just a waste? Should I have given up when I realised that I had no plot but far too many characters (to the point of literally forgetting a couple of them existed for long periods of time)?
All things considered, I think it was worth it, even if it doesn’t really feel like it now. (I haven’t dared to glance at the novel again since finishing it. I need to get a lot more distance before I’m ready for that.) Maybe writing it now wasn’t the best idea, but I needed to write it, and once I’d started, I needed to finish it.
A few reasons why I think it was worth pushing myself to finish this book despite being certain it was terrible:
- No first draft is ever amazing. That’s just a fact. And as they like to say, you can’t edit a blank page. So there’s no point holding back from writing something just because it’s no good; you need to write the terrible version in order to improve it because you can’t make something of nothing.
- If I’d given up or failed, I think I would have lost even more creative confidence. Like I said, I haven’t finished anything in ages. I needed a win. I needed to remind myself that I still know how to do this. I haven’t entirely put those doubts to rest: the ending is so rubbish that I still sort of suspect I’ve forgotten how to do this. But I feel better than I would’ve done if I’d left it unfinished.
- And based on previous experience, I know that 95% of writing projects I put aside to ‘finish later’ never, ever get finished. I have half a dozen unfinished novels floating around, including last year’s NaNo novel, and the chance that I’ll ever feel able to pick them up again is slim. I need to chase that initial thread of motivation and creativity, or I’ll lose it.
- It might not be as bad as I think it is. Sometimes things seem abysmal while I’m writing them but then I read them back a year later and I was being too hard on myself. Granted, I don’t think that’s the case this time (sadly), but there’s a chance — a chance that wouldn’t exist if I’d given up on it.
I got to the end of this novel, of NaNoWriMo, of the first term of my final year at Cambridge, and the phrase ‘Thank Goodness It’s Over’ never seemed so appropriate (though I didn’t make it to my region’s TGIO party this time). It was an uphill climb. It required willpower I think I’d forgotten I had. There were some late nights and some ridiculously fast wordsprints on Write or Die.
But I got to the end.
I have another completed first draft under my belt. I won my ninth NaNoWriMo in a row. I haven’t been kicked out of uni yet, nor have I dropped out. I still know how to write novels, though I thought I’d forgotten, so that’s a relief.
And now I have four essays and a dissertation to write, plus a ton of 2hr+ dance classes to survive. It’s not exactly going to be a ‘holiday’ this Christmas.
But nevertheless: TGIO. And that goes for NaNo, this book, and this term.