Many writers take on the NaNoWriMo challenge each year. You know, the National Novel Writing Month? The goal is to write at least 50,000 words during the month of November. For 2020, I began the third book in my Undercurrent series, RAGING TORRENT. This is the third time I’ve done NaNoWriMo, and I think I’ve finally cracked the code, at least for me. I think it works for me because it forces me to focus on my story. The ticking clock makes me want to sit down every night and put my fingers on the keyboard. If I miss a night, all I can do is think about how I’m going to make that time up. During November, it’s easier to remember what happened in my novel in the previous chapter, because I had just written it the previous night. Simple, right?
Well, I’m not a full-time writer. In fact, I have a very full-time job, and I have other interests. I go through phases when I feel like I’m a writer, and then I go through my woodworking phase. I like to build fine furniture when I can, and sometimes I might have five or six smaller projects in the works, too. The key for me is, I’m in one mode or the other. What I’ve found is that November helps me focus on writing, but with Christmas in December, I crank up the wood shop to work on gifts. So here’s why this is relevant—Because I’m in the shop, I’ve lost focus on my book for at least a month.
It was actually in around mid-January when I went back to my work in progress, and I found it difficult to get back into writer mode. I’d actually forgotten a lot of what I’d written six weeks earlier. But I’d sit down at the laptop thinking I had a good plan, ready to go. I knew where I was going to go with this, and I could just write. But sure enough, I’d start to type something and then wonder, Where were they when this happened? or What day did this happen in my story? So, that distraction would lead me through previous work searching for some little bit of information that I’d planted, surely in the prior chapter, right? Nope. That was four chapters ago, dude!
What I needed was something to trigger some excitement in my story. I’d been spending all my time catching up and figuring out where I’d left off. I was reviewing my outline, which is actually a quite detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, but at some point, I took my story in a different direction. This sharp left turn is actually what triggered that excitement for me. A couple of years back, our local paper interviewed our writing group during November, and I commented that I don’t outline my book to the end, because even as the writer, I want to be surprised at how it ends.
While writing my most recent work-in-progress, RAGING TORRENT, people would ask how it’s going. “About 3-4 chapters to go, I think.” The problem was, I kept restarting the clock. There were always 3-4 chapter left, until one day, I just knew. I had taken a Friday off work in order to have a weekend writing session. By Friday evening, I was so excited by my progress. I got up early on Saturday to write the next chapter. Then I wrote another in the afternoon. Then on Sunday, I gathered up the loose ends, again thinking I’d still have a couple of chapters left, but then in about three hours, I had typed the last chapter, and I was done. I knew I was done. It felt done. I felt so good about how I’d finished the draft, that almost without even stopping to think about it, I typed “The End.” I won’t leave those words in my finished book, but they allowed me to celebrate the 96,355 words (minus two) that I’d worked so hard to assemble. And the cool thing to me? I didn’t know how it was going to end until I finished typing.