NaNoWriMo 2016: starting over

People have been asking me on social media if I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Friends, former students, readers who liked my first NaNoWriMo attempt (Hagridden) — I even got a Facebook event invitation from NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner.

I’ve told them all the same thing: of course I’m participating!

Except, as I’ve done a time or two in the past, I’m kinda-sorta cheating this year, because instead of starting a new project, I’m actually returning to a book I’ve already written — in fact, it’s the NaNoWriMo book I attempted back in 2013 — and returned to 2014.

I’m not really cheating, to be honest. In 2014, I was cheating, because I simply continued to work on an existing project rather than starting something from scratch. But this year, I am starting from scratch, because I’m throwing out the entirety of my 2013 and 2014 drafts (and, dear readers, my 2015 draft as well — because yes, I did rework that same book a third time and I’m still not happy with it).

I am keeping some of the elements of the project: most of the main characters, most of the settings, the general thrust of the story . . . .

But I have tossed all the text and most of the individual scenes I’d written, and I’ve spent the last month drafting an entirely new outline for the story. I’ve also finally wrapped my head around the narrative style I want for this, which is been the biggest hangup for me with this book. The first draft was all first-person, which was great for scenes and a few whole chapters, but I quickly realized that I just couldn’t sustain a first-person voice that consistently felt as authentically late-19th-century as I needed it to. The second draft, I tried some third-person voices and multiple perspectives, which let me shift narrative voices and keep the pieces of first-person narration that I thought worked, but in the end, the draft was just a patchwork quilt of vignettes and the stitching wasn’t strong enough to hold the whole thing together. So for the third draft, I scrapped all of that and went back to the distant, third-person limited narrative voice I used in Hagridden, because hey, it worked once, so why not use it again? And for a while it was working wonderfully, and (ironically) it allowed me to drill into the characters more and let their worlds unfold in a more natural way. But eventually, I got so mired in the details of their lives that I lost sight of the plot and had no idea how to get the book back on track.

So, here I am, once more with a blank page and this same story I have yet to finish telling. And I do want to tell it — it’s still a story that lives in my head, and it wants out.

I’m hesitant to reveal too much here about why I feel like this year merits another attempt, but I can tell you these things, gang: This past year, I’ve been following some long-running national and international news stories that, while fascinating in their own right, kept reminding me of elements of my own novel. Also this past year, I’ve read a few books that triggered ideas for me, including Andrew Malan Milward’s stunning story collection I Was a Revolutionary and (currently) Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, as well as a few history books relevant to my story.

But I’ve been here before. So why revisit this old book for NaNoWriMo rather than simply start a new project? I’ve been thinking about this the past month, and I think it boils down to two reasons:

  • I don’t have a new project, and it’s hard for me to imagine a new one until I get through the projects already in my head. This is the older of two books I’ve been trying to get out of my head for years, and I’ll take any excuse to make new progress on it.
  • It’s been a crazy six months — I’ve wrapped up a life in one state and begun a new life (new home, new town, new job) in a new state — so I haven’t been doing the writing I’ve been wanting to. Even with my new study and all this dedicated writing time, I’m still playing catch-up on other, smaller writing projects while also juggling a series of non-writing projects. But NaNoWriMo, both as a frenzied writing deadline and as a supportive community of fellow Wrimos, has always been a good motivator and a wonderful excuse to set everything else aside and crank out the words. Which is what this book needs right now.

So, starting tomorrow (or, I’ll be honest, maybe tonight at midnight, because that’s how NaNoWriMo usually works), I’ll be off and running.

I can’t say how regularly I’ll be blogging about my efforts, because I still have a lot of other things going on (including Wordstock this coming weekend) and it’ll be a struggle just to keep up with my daily word count. But I hope to check in from time to time, so hang in there with me, gang.

And if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, leave a comment and let me know what you’re working on!

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

3 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo 2016: starting over

  1. Yay, Sam! And the ED called you up?? Damn… look me up so I can follow your NaNo progress! margaret.pinard 😀

    1. Well, FB-invited me to the big public event page, so not that big a deal. 😉

      I have met Grant Faulkner, though — he signed my copy of his microfiction collection from Press 53, and this past spring I spent part of an evening drinking with him at a Sewanee reception at AWP. 🙂 He’s a hell of a good guy, and he tells great cocktail-party stories!

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