Books · Prague

Why I Won’t “Win” NaNoWriMo

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?

©Sezin Koehler, 2010. Image via the Kansas MCC Mennonite Relief Sale

2 thoughts on “Why I Won’t “Win” NaNoWriMo

  1. Sezin, I love How to Make an American Quilt — it’s a book that I recently (within the last year or so) got again. I am a very novice quilter, and stop and go at that – been months since I picked up my quilt project – but I do understand why writing has a patchwork quality. I signed up for NaNo but knew I wasn’t going to make the deadline… I think I just thought I should do it this year!

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

    Yes, every book/project/painting has it’s own pacing. The minute I think I have a routine or pattern, it gets shaken up!

    I love the image of you piecing together AM2.

    1. Thank you, Rose! Something else that occurred to me about How to Make an American Quilt is the word count. That novel can’t be more than 25,000 words and it’s amazing how much Whitney Otto packed in there. My mom joked that she read Stephen King’s epic 2-million page Under The Dome in two days and it took her two weeks to finish “American Quilt”. I wonder if the publishing industry is so saturated these days that they need to have these arbitrary word counts upwards of 70,000 words per book in order to capitalise on some demographic nonsense that makes no sense to us. Why can’t a great story be told in less than 50,000 words and still be considered a novel? Why should we force ourselves to draw out a story when it doesn’t need to be?

      About quilting, I admire anyone who is able to learn that skill. I tried and I’m just not good at measuring things out, numbers are not my forte. I always thought if I did quilt it would be in a crazy quilt group and so my off-kilter piece would add to the charm. 😉

      I love what you say about whenever you think you have a routine it gets shaken up! I’m the same way. Once I try to force it, the process shuts down. Once I try to make a routine nothing flows. I find I have to just trust that creative part of my brain that it knows what to do and when is the right time.

      Thank you so much for commenting, Rose! I can’t wait to read your book!


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