Recovering From the NaNover

Another year, another NaNoWriMo gone by.

On the NaNo website it says that there were over 310,000 participants from all over the world (596 regions), though I’m curious as to how many crossed the finish line (if anyone can point me in that direction, please do). But even if someone wrote only 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words that they didn’t have at beginning of the month. That’s something.


I’m also curious as to how the process went for others and what they do once they’ve finished. Editing is certainly as personal a process as the writing part is.

This year was COMPLETELY different than when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo (INTERGALACTIC) novel two years ago. In 2011, I had been mulling the story and characters over for a few months, I had written an outline (what I call a sequence and beat sheet) and some brainstorming exercises around it all, I had wound myself up, started off with a bang, kept up a steady pace, and even finished early. I also had enough time to hang out in the forum and see how everyone else was doing.

This year I only had the seed of an idea (a location in space and time and 2 characters), had completed one brainstorming exercise, had a fuzzy direction with no sense of how the story would end, and I PANTSED it like crazy. I didn’t have much time early on, or in the middle, so with a week left to go I was still at 18,000 words. I wrote the last 32,000 in the final week. I didn’t have time to reread what I had written the previous day, just went for it. Also, the only contact I had with other NaNoWriMoers (NaNoWriMoists?) was on the @nanosprints twitter page where we encouraged each other to do things like write 1,000 words in 30 minutes.

Both times I was writing something out of my comfort zone. Trying on a new genre. In 2011 it was more plot-based genre fiction (a comedic YA sci fi), this time is was YA contemporary lit. Well, okay, I THOUGHT it was going to be magical realism, but it ended up more in the realm of “unreliable” narrator. The protagonist simply views the world differently than most folks and she’s a little mentally unstable. When it comes time to pitch it I think I’ll call it “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Queer Girls.” Right now it’s called WINTERSPRING AND SUMMERFALL (although I’m thinking of changing that to Summerfall and Winterspring, whichever sounds better).

I am definitely more of a “planner” by nature when it comes to novel writing, though totally willing to go in new directions if inspired in the moment. I definitely let the magic happen during the creative process. The fascinating thing for me about “pantsing” it this year was that the story still emerged, even without the plan. It sprang from the ethers and I just had to trust. I had to let go of any expectations and just see where it took me.

One of my favourite aspects this time around was when a particular character emerged out of nowhere. A minor character (a gay teacher whose partner is dying from AIDS – this story takes place in the 80’s) turned up, who not only took the story in a wonderful new direction, he added drama, an ally for my protagonist, and a subplot that rounded out the story really magically at the end.

I keep saying that I have a “hot mess” on my hands, but I think when I finally read it (I’m setting it aside until my holiday break), it will be more cohesive than I believe it to be. That happens a lot to me and I have enough years of writing behind me for it to be so. Structure happens a bit intuitively for me due to my fabulous drill sergeant screenwriting instructors at the University of Washington.

So, how did you do? Did you pants it or plan it?

Are you going to give it a break or read it right away?

Set it aside to germinate or dive right into your edit?

And, most of all, what were some of your favourite magical moments?


  1. Robert Runte, Ph.D.
    Dec 3, 2013

    I ended up with less than 7,000 words, but as you say, 7,000 more than I had when I started. I knew November is fairly hopeless month for writing for me…too many teaching and editing deadlines to work on my own stuff. I have no outline, but I do have four or five months of daydreaming opening scenes while waiting to fall asleep each night, so point was to get what was already in my head down on paper. I got the very first scene down, which frees me up to concentrate on second and third scenes for next while until I get a chance to get them down (might be one day in xmas holidays).

    I certainly understand the phenomenon of a character walking in the door unexpectedly. Happened to me in my novel…I had everybody I needed, but suddenly there is this new guy throwing everybody else into chaos. But it sort of worked. Then, well after the fact, I came across my original outline from 39 years ago, and there he was…. Not sure whether I reinvented him because he was kind of necessary to the structure (i.e., great minds think alike, especially if it’s the same mind), or whether at some level subconscious remembers and keeping track of all this stuff for me.

    But that was the last time I wrote an outline. From then on it’s just been start character in a situation and see what happens. I end up writing myself into a lot of corners, but forces my hero to come up with interesting ways out which I would never have thought of if I were outlining….

  2. Danika Dinsmore
    Dec 4, 2013

    “great minds think alike, especially if it’s the same mind” – yes! haha.

    I’ve questioned the logic of having the novel writing in November myself, what with the holiday and end of semester business. But, guess JaNoWriMo doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    I think it’s interesting that a character who was invented 40 years ago reappeared, must have been knocking around your subconscious.

    I can’t imagine writing my stories without outlines, although I’m glad I just went for it this year and didn’t let NOT having an outline stand in my way. I can definitely see how writing yourself into a corner is another way to stay creative.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing Robert.

  3. Tod
    Dec 4, 2013

    I crossed the 50,000 word line on the last day of the month, which isn’t unusual, but that was after an 8000 word day which followed a 7000 word day! I was absolutely determined–after looking at 32,000 words earlier in the week–to get to 50,000 words.

    They weren’t great words, they were just “words.” It feels more like the outline of the book I want to write, and this particular novel feels like a 125k-150k story. In fact, I didn’t “finish”–I stopped. There was a lot more to the story that needed to be writ before I could call it a complete story, but I felt the need to stop the sprinting madness and do something else for a while.

    At the end, I wrote in 500-word spurts. I knew (more or less) what I wanted to do in the story, so writing 500 words at a time seemed like a good way to hit my goal. And it worked. I’m happy with what I did, despite the fact I’ll have to go back and rewrite most of it.

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Dec 4, 2013

      It also may be more cohesive than you think. You might be surprised. I like the 500 word sprint idea. Taken 500 words at a time, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. And if you do that 4 times a day, you’d be in really good shape. I did 8000 and 7000 word days one after the other on the last 2 days, too. Man, on Sunday my mind didn’t know what to do with itself. It was like some kind of drug.

  4. Sam
    Dec 22, 2013

    I didn’t finish my NaNo this year. I had too much schoolwork.
    Maybe next time. Then again, that is what I say every year.


    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 6, 2014

      But you’re still closer than you were before. 🙂 And I’m very happy that young writers are taking on the challenge.

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