This is the sixth year I've put myself through this madness! Time flies when you're having fun.... This morning I was thinking back over all the various years, with their various challenges. It's been an interesting ride, every time.
The first year, I had no idea if I was even capable of writing that many words. I've always written off and on (journals and fiction), since even before I could write language. My first diary is one Mom gave me at five; I drew pictures because I didn't know how to put things down in words yet. But until the first NaNo year, I'd never gotten past about ten thousand words. I'd get that far, realize that my story wasn't nearly as wonderful as it had seemed in my head, and abandon it in disgust. With NaNoWriMo, I wouldn't have that option. It was appealing and intimidating at the same time.
My plot that year was a convoluted sci-fi conspiracy time-travel thing, involving a set of ancient stones that, when brought together, allowed one to travel to any point within one's own lifetime. It was (and remains) completely execrable. I tripped over my own logic holes, my characters refused to behave as they were meant to according to the outline, there were pages and pages of them blathering on and on in internal monologues that did nothing for the story, and the whole thing was a cliche laden mess. But I did it. And there were even occasional glimmers of decency. There are some characters in that story that I really should go back and rescue one of these days.
I was hooked. I now knew I could write fiction. Really, really bad fiction, granted; but I could really write novels! But the next year I failed utterly. My plot might have had something to do with it. It involved aliens from a remote part of the galaxy who were smuggling Spam from Earth. Um. Yah. Why was that a good idea? And I also learned something that year: if you decide that you need the support of friends in order to write, you won't. Because at least some of them won't get the idea of writing for fun, with no hope of doing anything with what you're writing.
In subsequent years, I've written: the journal of a rather goody-goody girl who I detested by week two, the adventures of Dark Lord Bob and the Toaster of Doom, and then, last year, a minor cheat -- I worked on a story I'd already worked on. It was meant to be a sort of philosophical examination of a future where people could pay to forget their past lives, but it evolved into the rollicking adventures of Captain Paul "Torch" Bremer and his merry crew of semi-outlaws. He evicted amnesia chick from the story and went on his way without a thought. I've yet to untangle that story, but I did come up with 50k worth of extra words.
This year is something else again. It's more of a thriller, and more true to life than anything I've tried before. There will be murder, if I can ever bring myself to kill the victim. The story was supposed to start with the murder, more or less, and then examine how it affected the lives of those left behind, but here I am, almost 40k in, and I'm not there yet. Instead, I've written almost her whole biography. My characters never do what I want them to do. I think that's the primary thing I've learned from all this: stories are slippery, ever shifting things, and it makes writing them a frustrating, wonderful, challenging, bewildering experience.