Tag Archives: Whitney Otto

Why I Won’t “Win” NaNoWriMo

Why I Won’t “Win” NaNoWriMo

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A crazy quilt made by seven Wichita, Kansas women

The way you win the National Novel Writing Month is by writing 50,000 words between November 1-30. There’s no prize, per se, just the warm fuzzy (wrist hurty) feeling that you completed a Herculean task in a short amount of time. This was the first year that I attempted NaNoWriMo and here’s why I won’t be “winning”:

The process of writing my first novel, American Monsters, was much like putting together a crazy quilt. A crazy quilt is different from a traditional quilt in that it integrates different styles and colours, utilising not only quilting but also applique, patchwork giving the quilt a far more asymmetrical appearance than the usual. According to the incredible novel How to Make an American Quilt, a crazy quilt is also often made by more than one person, whose “voice” must then be synchronised with that of all the other quilters.

Between Volume 1 and 2 of American Monsters there were many individual stories that were linked, even though at first glance they might have seemed not to be connected at all. For a first novel, it was risky to expect people to trust that the stories were leading to the same place and that they were connected; many readers have commented that when they finished and stepped back, my crazy quilt of a novel totally worked.

American Monsters in Prague takes up right where the first left off, but is voiced in a more traditional narrative style and NaNoWriMo helped me write roughly 33,000 words of Volume 3.

Looking through these 85+ pages, I see that my crazy quilt has lots of empty patches, details that are missing, and the pieces are thrown together so haphazardly that I have actually made more work for myself making order of the jumble. Like what happens when you stitch together pieces of a quilt that aren’t ready yet: you then have to go back, (painfully) pull the pieces apart and re-do your work.

When it comes to novel writing, my method involves having my components fully stitched and adorned in a nice stack of ready patches, before I do the work of piecing together my crazy quilt whole.

I’ve since decided to put those 33,000 words of American Monsters in Prague to the side. In a few weeks I will revisit the sections with fresh eyes, tear out the stitches and form it into a more coherent shape.

In the meantime, I’ve got my brain percolating with the events that will take place in Volume 4, otherwise known as The Secret Life of Stone, and I don’t plan to put any more words towards my 33,000 until I’ve got the skeleton and muscle layer of the story worked out in far more detail than I did with Volume 3.

NaNoWriMo is a great event to get people writing, especially for people who don’t think of themselves as novelists or those who always wanted to write a novel and never found the time until now. I am thankful to NaNoWriMo for getting me back into the world of my monsters and moving the story forward in many ways. However, the NaNoWriMo process is not for me: My crazy quilting method of story creation clashes with the urgency of racking up a word count within a 30-day period.

Until I have all the panels of my American Monsters in Prague quilt fully formed and embellished I have no business stitching them together. Yet.

Do you have a creative process that goes against the grain?

┬ęSezin Koehler, 2010. Image via the Kansas MCC Mennonite Relief Sale