Seven years ago, I joined and "won" NaNoWriMo with what eventually (like 5 years after that one month) my novel A Call of Moonhart. That time, I knew I had a novel-length idea, I had the world building in hand, and the timing was right to get a jump start on all of it. Eventually, that 50k words formed the basis of two novels (one still more-or-less in draft form) totally nearly 250k words. NaNo was a good way to get all that started.
This time around, I'm in a totally different place. I have two, no THREE totally different projects that I'm thinking about at the same time. One of them, which seems the most commercial, is going to take a whole lot of research that I've only just begun. An entire time and place that I'm only passing familiar with. Don't get me wrong, the research is half of what I like about my writing. Maybe even two thirds. But the story idea is strong for that and I'm excited about the project.
I'm not writing on that for NaNoWriMo this year.
Another project, taking least as much research as the first but with extra added world building required, is a really powerful concept. I LOOOOOVVVVVEEEE the concept, and it includes an expansion of one of the worlds I first began writing in about 20 years ago. But I have a concept, not a story (although I may finally have an inkling of one now) and it takes a story before I can write. Even me, a "pantser" by NaNo terminology. If there isn't a story, then what I have are research notes, and no one wants to read that.
I'm not writing on that for NaNoWriMo this year, either.
What I'm working on isn't even a novel. Unless I've badly underestimated how long the frame tale is, or I come up with another entirely new idea for a set piece, this is novella length at about 30,000 words. Even so, I won't know until I get there if this is even a story with a defined arc, or a series of character sketches. You see, these are some of my favorite, most familiar characters. I've been writing them, or versions of them, or their friends, or people who hung out in the same area at one point, for at least 30 years. They are comfortable old friends to hang around with. They are all too pretty, too smart, too good to hang contemporary fiction on. To borrow from Ellen Kushner, I love to write about these fine people all hanging around, drinking, and having sex. Fun to write but boring to read and it isn't commercial. In my case, my NaNo project this year is going to be some very self-indulgent crap that I'm taking the month of November to churn out. But, you see, (and I have the time lines if you're silly enough to ask for them) there's this gap where I have my male character making his way alone in the world, nursing a hurt from ten years before when his best friend/sometime lover left without a word. I have a later period where he is reunited with this woman, but not as lovers, for he is with a third woman. What I don't have is: what happened in those ten years? How did they reunite? Just how awkward was it when the love-of-his-youth comes back into his life just as he's beginning a very adult relationship with an amazing woman? What happened to make them all friends? More than friends?
I have been doing very little writing while I shopped for an agent for my last novel. At the end of that period, I have no agent and no new writing. Pulling out these old, friendly, comfortable, well-loved characters is a great place to find my writing flow again. I wrote an extended character study in early October, but now I want to know what happened in those ten years, and how it all resolves.
I won't "win" NaNoWriMo this time around, but that's not my goal. I want to write. I want to answer these questions. And I want to try out a new set of writing tools. Instead of OneNote and WordPerfect and a laptop and desktop, I'm now using Evernote, and Scrivener, and a tablet and the desktop. Getting to know Scrivener and developing a new toolset seems like it would be a "win" to me.