NaNoWriMo Week 1: To Be or To Have Been

I have made that exact same panic face

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo is done, and this is what I’ve learned:

  • Not having an outline makes me stressed out. Being stressed out makes me eat lots of cookies.
  • I have a default setting.
  • I was not prepared for even minor world-building.
  • Books are vast.

Okay, some of those I already knew. But let’s go over everything I discovered about myself in this first week.

Not Having an Outline Makes Me Stressed Out. Being Stressed Out Makes Me Eat Lots of Cookies. I’m a control freak. I like to be super prepared, especially when it comes to writing. I make a three-act outline. I make a general chapter breakdown. I do detailed chapter summaries. I do detailed character outlines. Yes, frequently I will get distracted by a new shiny idea and veer off course. But I like having that safety net of an outline.

As I have frequently nattered worriedly about, this time I have no outline. It’s an experiment, at least. It’s a way to push myself outside of my comfort zone. To follow the story whims and just see what happens. No pressure.

Lies. All the pressure! It’s freaking NaNoWriMo and I am the most self-competitive creature on the planet (probably). I’ve never lost. Like hell I’m breaking that winning streak now for an experiment. Why did I decide to go through with this crazy half-baked idea?

Hence, I am eating aaaaalllllll the mint milanos. Because they are my comfort food.

But…BUT…I’m still on track. Yes, it’s harder without an outline to guide me. Yes, the crafting of the first few chapters has not been as fun and effortless as I am used to. Usually this is my favorite part of writing, but it’s hard to enjoy it this time. I am laboring over every idea, every word choice because it’s not flowing yet. Which makes hitting word count stressful, but I’m optimistic that it’ll pick up and get a little easier once I hit the inciting incident.

At least, I’m clinging to optimism. The alternative is…ugh.

I Have a Default Setting. Crutch, thy name is first-person past-tense!

Because this NaNoWriMo’s theme is pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I am also switching up my default storytelling mode. Which means no more first-person past-tense.

Well, slightly switching up my storytelling mode. I’m still writing in first person, because that fit the story I’m trying to tell best.

But I’m writing in present-tense.

*Thunder crashes* *Lightning stikes* *Villagers gasp in horror*

It sound easy, right? Just don’t use the past tense. “Says” instead of “said” and so on and so forth.


Telling stories in the past-tense is second nature. Think about it. If someone crazy happens to you and you want to tell your friend, you normally share it in the past tense (“I was at Starbucks and they stopped serving pumpkin spice lattes, and the people revolted and built barricades like in Les Mis”). You don’t normally narrate stuff while it’s happening.

This is another thing I’m hoping gets a little easier once I’m used to it.

I Was Not Prepared For Even Minor World-Building. Thus far, all my manuscripts have taken place in the modern world (albeit with magical elements). Granted, I’ve created fictional settings, but they’re still located in our world. That way, I can get away will giving my characters smart phones and letting them reference Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone: setting is not our world.

Granted, it’s still a modern society, very similar to our. Maybe even more so than any of the others, since there are no magical elements to be found (bye magic! Mama misses you!). It’s just…not our universe.

So that means no references to iPhones, or Chipotle burritos, or Walmart, or classic 80’s movies.

(Oh 80’s movie references, I’ll miss you most of all).

It wasn’t until I was struggling to name a prison that I realized just how much I needed to create.

All new music, movies, TV shows, fast-food chains, grocery stores, clothing stores, banks, businesses, technology, religion. Everything.

And granted, it’s nowhere near close to the world building most SF/F authors do. Cudos to you guys for being so baller, because even this little bit is starting to freak me out.

Maybe the whole “winging it” thing was a bad idea.

Books Are Vast. Chalk this one up as, “No shit, Sherlock.” But it’s something I always forget when I’m looking over a finished manuscript. With a finished manuscript–at least in my case–it seems so contained. I know the finished manuscript is 300 pages long because they’re numbered. But a new project is blank. It’s huge. It’s rolls ahead of you, waiting. It could end up being 300 pages as well. Or 500 pages. You just don’t know.

Which is kind of stupid on my part, but…actually no. I have no excuse for my logic.

So as I start this new WIP and am only 5000+ words in, the rest of the month seems like this massive mountain to climb. It’s hard to imagine being half-way done next week. It seems like it should take forever.

Especially since (THEME ALERT) I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. That means no more meaty chapters.

I love meaty chapters. For me, meaty chapters meant I got to stay up later to finish. Reading meaty chapters were always my favorite (okay, now I want bacon).

This time, I’m experimenting with short chapters. Compact. To the point. A gut punch of plot and character. But working with short chapters means there will be more of them than I’m used to. Practically double my normal number of chapters.

And big numbers are daunting.

Stay optimistic, Bauman.

In any case, NaNo has only just started, and even though I have all these fears and hurdles to overcome, I’m nowhere close to giving up. I’m just a whiner. Complaining is in my blood. I will gripe and be stressed out over this and, in the end, be glad I pushed myself. And in any event, I’m only getting even more stubborn about winning. I’ll have time to freak out later.

Current Word Count: 5956/50,000

I am Jeremy Renner

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Track my progress here or send me a writing buddy request!


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