I’m a huge fan of the NaNoWriMo project (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated), wherein one sets a goal to write a novel (defined as 50,000 words) in a month’s time. The original event is held in November, but there are also ‘Camp’ NaNoWriMo months in April, June, and August. These are formatted slightly differently, with the major change being the ability to set one’s own word count goal.

Although I try to always have a daily goal of a thousand words, I hugely enjoy the structure and impetus that participating in NaNoWriMo provides. The novel I wrote during last August’s camp (although admittedly I didn’t finish it during the month) is due for publication in September, and the project I started (and completed!) this past November has just been contracted as well. So I went into this April’s camp with a carefully plotted idea, a 60,000-word goal, and high hopes.

And two weeks and 35,000 words into the challenge, I deleted it all and started over.

By that point I could no longer pretend that the novel was working. My lovingly conceived characters were flat and unsympathetic. Their conflicts were muddled and their relationship had no spark. Worst of all? The novel was boring. It bored me to write it and it bored me to read back over. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to revise as I went along, but at a certain point I knew I had to do something drastic if this was going to be worth the time I was investing.

I can pinpoint the single thought that made me decide to start over. I was brushing my teeth, of all things, and running through various half-baked ideas for other stories that I might want to start should I abandon my current WIP. None of them were truly firing me up, and I thought back to my poor characters, languishing in Microsoft Word, their intriguing personalities and compelling backstories still unrealized. Then the figurative light bulb switched on: If I don’t love these characters, no one else will.

So it was back to a blank document, but this time with honest, earnest intention. I binned my rigid plot outline and though I’ve salvaged one or two scenes, I’m as good as starting from scratch. This time, however, I’m letting the characters lead the story, thinking only about who they are and not what they need to do and when it needs to happen. After all, they don’t know – why should I? This is a new and slightly terrifying system for me, but so far I think it’s working. I’m so much happier with what I’m creating and, most importantly, I actually look forward to seeing where the story goes.

Will I reach my 60,000-word NaNo goal? Highly doubtful, and even if cumulatively I count everything I’ve written this month (about 40-odd thousand words at this point), it’s moot, as the novel itself is only up to 15,000. I won’t pretend it’s not discouraging to realize that I’ve gone from being more than halfway finished to not even a third of the way through. But I console myself that those 15,000 words are solid, and that’s worth more than 100,000 words that are too boring to read.

(Go on: watch my progress! http://www.campnanowrimo.org/campers/rebecca-crowley/)