Oh, the dangers of exposition!
I write scifi and fantasy. This means that I spend a lot of time designing worlds around my stories. I try to get this all done before I start writing, which of course also means that I don’t always end up writing the story at all. I spend my energy on maps, theological settings, dominant political world views, magic and/or science systems, cultural norms, and when I I was really young, naming conventions (apostrophes, and the letters X and Z, were very popular in my teen years). It’s all notes on theories and plans without a single word of the story itself being written. When it comes to NaNoWriMo, though, this all has to be thrown to one side, because then it’s the writing that counts. It’s one of many reasons I so love Nano; I can’t afford to stall and make things perfect, otherwise I will lose and that irritates the hell out of me! (This is why it’s only a semi confession; I do this as a stalling tactic outside of nano, argh.)
The other type of exposition that I do is to fill my story with the incredibly detailed and frequently non-relevant pages of information. This is great for winning NaNoWriMo, as it’s all about quantity. It’s not so good for the story, nor does it ingrain good writing habits. Worse, I generally end up only writing a quarter of the actual story, when my wordcount would have been better spent sketching out the bones of my entire novel, and then filling in the meat of it later. And even if later never happens (which it doesn’t), then at least the ENTIRE story would be laid out, beginning to end (I’d settle for a beginning, middle bits, and an end). I’ve scanned older works years after I abandoned them, and realized I have no idea how this ends. Or at best, a foggy memory of what was once rich and full of detail.
For every NaNoWriMo I’ve ever done, I’v sacrificed story in the name of wordcount, and it’s been a bad choice. And it’s an incredibly hard habit to break; this camp nano, since I cut the word goal to 25,000, I’ve been able to write in a more conscious and non-panicked manner. And every dammed day I struggle not to go off on tangents about stuff that, while having an affect on the story, isn’t actually in the story, and so should be saved for later, and only then if it’s really needed.
I blame my mother and college about equally for this; college taught me that you can never have too much exposition (gotta fill up those 25 pages!) and my mother would read a scene and ask ‘Why is you’re character doing this thing? Wouldn’t it make more sense for character to do this other thing?’ And then I would explain why, at which point she would complain that I should have explained that already. Moms are bad beta readers.