What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

Sometimes the destination we are headed to turns out to be the wrong place when we arrive. This is NaNoWrimo 2020 for me. I finally wrote my first novel and broke the magic 50k number. I expected to be ecstatic. The truth is, I’ve barely thought about it except to be relieved it’s over. Then today I had an epiphany. I realized I’m in the wrong place.

The flash of enlightenment occurred in the library today as I was shelving books. This is not something I normally do, but we are closed to the public and operating with minimum staff so we are all doing things different. Right now we have a ton of books to shelve so I got to go into almost every section of the library.

As I shelved, I became aware of my feelings and reactions to the different genres. I found it was hard to focus on shelving books in three areas because I was distracted by what I was shelving. These three areas were non-fiction, poetry and short stories. A lightbulb popped in my brain. Why am I trying to write fiction novels when my favorite things to read are non-fiction, poetry and short stories? I thought back to how I even got here.

My favorite books growing up were Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies and collections of Sherlock Holmes. The first thing I can remember writing was a short scary story about a man who went insane in a house because it was full of baby ghosts that cried 24/7. The first thing I wrote that I received praise for was a poem inspired by David Bowie’s song Wild if the Wind. My first professional sale was to a website called Lovewords Ezine and it was a short called “Bad Baby” inspired by the origins of the Jersey Devil. Then I discovered non-fiction and worked for a wide assortment of newspapers, ad sites, online venues… basically anyone who would pay me. And I loved all of it.

Not to bore you with my autobiography… just to point out what should have been obvious to me. I am not a novelist. I love fast, intense and lean reading. I am usually reading something non-fiction. I enjoy an economy of words. I like to find out new information and then share it. How did I get stuck in the novelist mindset? Oh yes, it was to prove a point twenty years ago.

Back in 2001 I attended the 19th annual Southwest Writer’s Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a non-fiction writer. I was actually working on my first non-fiction book (another story, another time) and was enjoying all the workshops and comradery… until I heard a man claim that non-fiction writers weren’t real writers because they had no imagination.

Hey, everyone is entitled to an opinion and I voiced mine. I think non-fiction and fiction are equal. You have to gloss up the truth to sell it and you have to have a kernel of truth in your fiction to sell it. They are two sides of the same coin. He loudly, and rudely told me I was wrong and before you knew it we were having a shouting match in the hallway of the Hyatt Regency about writing.

We almost got kicked out of the conference because we were disrupting the other workshops that were trying to wrap up and neither of us would back down. I went home infuriated and determined to prove him wrong. I started my first book that night in a rage, and quite a few years later published it as End of Mae. To my surprise, it did fairly well with good reviews and decent royalties for quite awhile. It was fun. I kept writing fiction.

End of Mae is a novella at about 20,000 words. A few years later came Bitter Suites, also a novella. When it became a Bram Stoker finalist I was told by a few publishers they would purchase it if I would write the entire story arc (planned for three connected novellas) as a standalone book. I got excited and started working on it as a novel.

And this brings us to the moral of this long discourse: to thine own writing be true.

When Bitter Suites was just my fun, crazy novella I loved it. I was so excited about the story arc and how it was going together. Then I tried to force it to be a novel. If a story is my baby, I smeared make up on it and forced it to wear grown up clothes.

It felt wrong. It looked wrong. I don’t like it. Burn it with fire—metaphorically. I went back to my original plan and published the second part as a novella. That’s Suite and Sour published this October.

After I finished my long slog with the NaNo romance novel I was tired of the nightly marathon, the characters I’d lived with for a month and writing in general.

I needed my mojo back so I wrote something, but this was just a quick story of less than 5,000 words. It is fast, intense and lean. There is some death and gore. The underdog wins and justice has no mercy. All the things I love. It was what writing has always been for me: a pleasure. And I’m rejuvenated.

So, I officially wrote my novel and I’m all good. Bucket list item checked. I’ll probably do NaNoWrimo next year but I will just write 30 short stories. That sounds like a fun challenge. I do plan to publish this NaNo romance in February 2021 but it may not be a novel anymore. So much of it felt like it could be condensed or cut. Do we really care what her dress looks like? The beta readers will let me know. BTW, contact me if you want to be a beta reader :)

Future novels? I think it’s out of my system. Wordcount is not what makes a good story for me. I will listen to my own advice to let the story be what it wants to be. I don’t think it wants to be a novel, and I definitely don’t want to be the person writing it.

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay 

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She is a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. She co-publishes Space and Time, a publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction since 1966. Join the community at spaceandtime.net
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2 Responses to What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

  1. Marge Simon says:

    I relate to all you say about novel writing being wrong for you. I’m glad you stood up for the side of fiction AND non-fiction. However, I don’t care what some joker thinks –let him think so. I suspect my age and experience have to do with that attitude.

    I’m not able to (happily or miserably) sustain a long arc to make a novella, much less a novel. I realized that once I started submitting. The short form brings me satisfaction. I can compete with myself and it’s win-win. And let the long writers & novelists have the spotlight, if they deserve it!

    • I’m with you. I support whatever anyone else wants to write, but it’s the short forms that bring me joy. And what are we doing this for if not joy? Oh yes… and probably because we’re certifiable lunatics!

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