NaNo Zombies

The Novel that will not die…

NaNoWriMo 2009: 2.4 billion words written. That’s nearly 50,000 novels of 50000 words. I don’t know how many of those words were written by people who finished, but even if it’s half of that number, it’s impressive.

I contributed about 50,000 to that grand total. Even though most people thought I was crazy, I was elated to finish.

It was a lark. I wasn’t even going to enter. The last week in October, I changed my mind. What the heck — I don’t have to finish it, I thought. And it might be a fun experiment, to see how quickly I can throw an idea into novel form. So I started it for fun.

It was a powerful feeling to see my word count going up every day, to pass my weekly goals and finally pass 50,000 – eleven days early! I so impressed myself that I started having grand ideas: I could write a novel every month of the year! Or at six novels a year, reserving the other six months for revision. Surely I’d have something publishable before I knew it. What a great thing deadlines are!

I took December off. January would be revision month, I decided. By summer, it would be done… I even wrote dates in on my calendar: Second draft, February 15, Final revision May 31.

Don’t laugh. I must have been hallucinating. Putting everything else aside for a month might have worked for one month, but I’d fallen behind on almost everything. I couldn’t keep the pace up. In February, I was sick of it. I decided to wait until June.

This was a good thing. Novels are not sweaters. You can’t whip out a new one in a few weeks, weave in the loose ends and call it done. Ideas take time to mature. When I re-read my first draft, I realized that most of it was going to have to be ripped out.


Here we are in the middle of July. I’ve already asked myself, “Now what?” about fifty-thousand times. I’m on my third revision of the novel since November 30. I’ve written at least another fifty thousand words, probably more. Is it nearly done? No.

I suspect that there are a lot of Nano winners in the same spot. After spending 30 days (and nights) writing the damn thing, I’m not going to throw it in the drawer. I’ve outlined the entire thing, and know exactly how it will end. But I can’t seem to get the story moving.

I feel like a deck hand on the Titanic, moving the chairs around so we can all have a good view of the disaster. Only the disaster is me.

The end is nowhere in sight. But I am beginning to understand why.

Here’s the problem: having invested so much in a first draft, I am not willing to let it go.

But I can’t make it go. Other Nanoers I’ve talked to feel the same thing. Post-Nano burn-out.

Since the beginning of June I’ve written 5,000 words in Latin, about 30,000 for my blogs (in English), and probably another 15,000 in story notes, outlines, and revision. 50,000 words — an entire novel. Or a coulda-been novel.

Do I still want to be a novelist? Yes.

Do I have to finish this novel? No.

What do I want? I don’t know.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? Undecided.

If I do, I will approach it differently, more realistically. And if I finish, I will toss it in a drawer, in an envelope labeled, “Don’t open until October 2011.” By then, I might need a reality check.


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