I mistakenly used the word “cheating” in connection with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last week. Turns out that’s a faux pas; the preferred term is “NaNo Rebel“.
For several reasons, it’s really dumb to claim you’ve “won” the NaNoWriMo competition by writing your 50,000 words before midnight on 1 November. First, the only real prize is the joy of doing it. Sure, some authors do go on to get book deals for their efforts, but those deals are few and far between. The vast majority of participants will only have their honor and a little badge they can display on a web page.
I was not planning on starting the actual narrative early. I was seeking to take all the ideas floating around in my head and capturing them somewhere. I wanted to have a reserve pile of ideas I can toss into the story if I feel like I’m flagging or woolgathering. And so I wondered if that was considered dishonesty under the standard terms of NaNoWriMo.
Then I went digging, and found the link above, from the official source of rules for the competition, which specifically addresses this. As long as I only count words written between midnight 1 November and midnight 1 December toward the 50,000, I am okay. I’m still within my honor. I can still win it, even if I did some planning and plotting and character-ing before the official starting gun.
On the other hand, as I may have mentioned on the blog before, but am too lazy to find and link, I am also considering taking no notes at all—in fact, I’m considering tossing out the whole idea of having a plan in mind in the first place! What if I approach it like I’ve approached my daily writing experiment: sit down and write until I reach my word goal. Improvised, imagine at the moment, no planning or forethought. Write and see what happens. What story develops over time? What characters emerge? Seat-of-the-pants writing.
(Which is why authors talk about the two types of writers: panters, vs. plotters.)
I’ve tried plotting things out first. I managed to finish a first draft that way, a long, long time ago (no, you can’t read it; it’s terrible). I learned a lot in that effort, and I have doubled down on plotting ever since. However, I have not been able to complete a first draft since then. Should I try it out the other way next? Is that what will help?
If I don’t have a prior idea where the story is going, there’s the chance it can go anywhere at all. The trail is not blazed. I don’t have to work to steer the story to the pre-determined conclusion. I could literally have aliens land and change everything, just to keep the story moving and keep me writing. There’s a lot to like in doing it this way, this time around.
I will reserve judgment until I start. That, too, is permitted. I can go in with a plan, start to execute that plan, and then decide to swerve in the middle. The only rule is: 50,000 words in one month. The words don’t even have to be all in one story to count, although that’s the strong assumption when talking about National Novel Writing Month: one novel, one story, start to finish.