We’re halfway through NaNoWriMo 2020, and my novel is now at 26,344 words.

Since this is the halfway point – with 50K words in 30 days being the goal – I should be at 25K words now, so I’m 1344 words ahead.

I think it was a wise decision to get ahead of the 1667 words per day pacing and then to pad that lead by a small amount each day, so I always feel like I’m ahead of schedule.

Many people get behind on their desired pacing and end up having to write 10-20K words in the last few days to catch up (or even on the final day). While I don’t think it’s such a big deal to do a marathon catch-up session at the end, I don’t think the Nano experience is quite as fun and motivating if you spend most or all of it feeling like you’re behind. I very much prefer to feel slightly ahead for the entire month.

It’s nice to just do 1700 or 1800 words and call my writing done for the day, knowing that I’m padding my lead by a modest amount each day. I can do that all month long with relative ease.

It’s especially nice to know that all I have to do is continue the same pacing I’ve been using for the first 15 days for the second 15 days, and I’ll coast across the finish line, likely reaching 50K words on Day 28 or 29.

Enjoyment

Some people talk about hitting a wall around this point. I’m presently experiencing the opposite.

Even when I hit my word target for the day and think, “I could do another 500 words right now,” I still stop. I prefer to leave something in the tank for the next day. This approach is working well. I’m feeling more motivated as I go along instead of feeling drained.

The writing is so much easier now than it was when I started, especially since I know the characters better after writing 20+ scenes with them. The dialogue feels more natural as it flows onto the screen, like real people communicating with wit, charm, humor, sass, and occasional silliness. It’s nice to be past the stiffness and shallowness of the dialogue that I began with in the first week. Now it’s easy to tell characters apart just from their speech patterns.

I didn’t know that it would be so much fun to breathe life into characters and then see how they respond to different situations. As I gradually build more detailed representations for these characters somewhere in my brain, it’s easier to discern how they’ll respond and react.

I still have to think through a lot of the plot, but now I’m able to write decent scenes just by grabbing a few characters and putting them into a fresh situation. They naturally seem to say and do things in accordance with their goals.

This is giving me the capacity to focus on other aspects of the story. I can now write scenes with more detail, nuance, and subtlety than when I first started, mainly because I don’t have to expend so much mental energy figuring out what the characters will say and do.

Sexuality

One aspect I’m wondering about is how sexual to make the story. There is a lot of sexuality in some scenes as I’m currently writing them, and I’m just running with that for now because it’s a first draft. But I am thinking ahead to whether I may end up cutting a lot of that material later.

I don’t recall ever reading any erotica (other than what people occasionally send in the form of naughty emails), and I’m not really trying to write that kind of book.

The story doesn’t have to go too much in a sexual direction, but for now there’s a certain pull with some characters and situations to take it there, and it would be weird not to let those characters have at it when they seem inclined. This is definitely a sci-fi story, but there’s an unusual romance at the core of it too.

None of the sexual aspects are vanilla, so they’re not like what you’d see in a typical R-rated movie with a sex scene or two. There are sexual situations in the book that don’t currently exist today, mainly due to the melding of sexuality and AI in the story.

One concept that Robert McKee emphasized in his Story seminar last year was to “Write the truth.” I think I grasp what he means by this. There’s an inauthentic way to have characters behave, so as to force some predetermined plot points to occur. But well-developed characters have their own authenticity to uphold.

Another way to write the truth is to share something deep and real that rings true. “Write the truth” is a call to courage – to be honest in expressing the story’s themes and not to water down the ideas. So I take that to mean that if the sexual aspects are honest expressions of the themes, then they very much belong in the story.

It feels aligned to have characters behave like real humans would, not to steer them away from sex if they’d actually be inclined to nudge things in that direction.

The competing force is thinking about selling the book to readers when it’s done. I’ve only done a little research on the book market so far, but I see a lot of potential for this story to be made into a movie someday. As it stands now, this novel would surely be an X-rated movie. At this point I don’t know if the story has to go that route to be authentically told though.

I could tone it down in future drafts to make it R or PG-13. I’m not sure if I’ll want to though. I think the story is likely to be more honest with more sexual situations intact or even expanded. The sexual situations are far from gratuitous. They naturally fit the flow of the story. And they help to raise the stakes as the story progresses.

Personally I think the story will be more fun to read if the sexual aspects are included instead of artificially censored. So my current preference is to write the book for readers who will appreciate authentic sexuality that fits the honest story without feeling like it should be more prudish.

I just don’t think it would feel as good to me to publish a story where I felt like I held back a lot just to appeal to a broader market. I don’t think I want to be that kind of writer.

However, if I can make the book appeal to a broader market without sacrificing anything that’s really important to the story, I may consider that, but my priority is to tell an interesting and meaningful story.

Instead of getting emails that say “cool story,” I’d honestly rather get emails that say, “That was hot! More please!” combined with other emails that say, “You will rot in hell for this, foul demon!”

There are plenty of vanilla books for vanilla readers. I think it would be more rewarding to write a book that scares away vanilla readers and pleases the non-vanilla ones. This isn’t due to being overly rebellious. I think honesty will suffice.