NaNoWriMo—Planning, Using Humor & Finishing Early

I’m currently 7 days in to NaNoWriMo and cranking out an average of 1,800+ words a day from four narrators about Poke Sallet Queen, my current novel-in-progress. This year, I have a plan, unlike last year, when I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month and felt like a NaNo virgin. I didn’t know what I’d write, nor did I have names for my lead characters. I didn’t know those characters at all, so complete strangers introduced themselves and walked onto my pages. I tend to see the page like a cartoonist or a graphic novelist, even if it only looks like black typeface on a white page. In spite of the unfamiliar territory, I ran into my first NaNo and never knew what was going to happen around the next corner. Free-writing, it unfolded as I went, but I spent a lot of time with my head in my hands…waiting…waiting for the next scene to appear, and then I’d be off and running again until suddenly confronting another dead end. Due to that, the novel is still in-progress, and the editing has been a nightmare. In my haste to make the word count, I skipped quotation marks and indentations. At least, I did meet the goal and managed to hit enter for paragraph divisions.

This year, I planned to do NaNo all along without the same mistakes, and I started outlining the book back in the summer. I created the characters with simple notes about their personalities, and the title danced right out there into my writing journal. Everything was hand-written for Poke Sallet Queen, except for the actual novel. I didn’t write a line of dialogue or a descriptive paragraph. I plotted and planned. I harvested the research from my relatives—moonshine, alcohol stills, poke sallet festivals, cakewalks, long-rifles, magic recipes, midwifery and mysterious births and disappearances. Just planning the novel made my fingers itch to start typing, but I staved it off and upped the anticipation. I wanted the momentum of waiting for November 1st.

I wrote my first novel, Multiple Exposure, outside of NaNoWriMo in the traditional way—alone…for four years. I sheltered the book in a protective mode. It’s a dark psychological novel about war and isolation, and I didn’t share my project with anyone until it was completely drafted and I only chose people with military experience and/or an awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s no humor in Multiple Exposure, only haunting settings, suspense and mental dilemmas. The NaNo novel from last year is also quite serious, but focused on a girl’s coming of age and confrontation with spiritual practices and beliefs.

For Poke Sallet Queen, the key differences have been outlining, sharing conversations with other people about my book, and using humor. I wanted it all for this book—I talked and talked to my relatives, to Terry (my husband), and anyone who knew about farming, Southern traditions, old time festivals becoming modern, drugs, midwifery, drinking and family mysteries. The humor naturally arose from all those voices, as did surprising stories about compassion, revenge, and the losses and gains involved in modernization.

I also planned a male narrator, which is different from the other two books. I wanted an old guy to speak, so I chose my great-grandfather’s “voice” and his nickname (Hoot) combined with my great-uncle’s voice, which I actually heard growing up. My great-grandfather was dead before I was born, but there’s been no shortage of stories to hear about him. And so, I’ve been conjuring up Hoot, the male voice among three women narrators, and that’s been the most challenging aspect of this NaNo novel.

Planning has made everything easier, even the difficulty of writing a male voice that existed before I was born. I hope to finish earlier than expected this year, without pushing it to the deadline like last year. Having fun while writing NaNo is the key to meeting the goal, and this year, with humor, conversations and a plan, writing 50,000 words has been (so far) much more enjoyable.

Are you writing a novel? Do you prefer to draft over a long period of time? Or, does the speed of NaNoWriMo appeal to you for completing a first draft? And, do you talk to other people about your work before it’s completely drafted?

*This article was first published on The Writer’s Life blog on Her Circle Ezine.

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