Now that that terrible, cheese-drenched title is out of the way, I’d like to address the topic at hand: National Novel Writing Month, a month long writing frenzy in which people everywhere attempt to crank out a novel (or 50,000 words of one anyway) in one month. (site: www.nanowrimo.org )
I first found out about Nano in my freshman year of college, and in a spirit of overacheiverism which comes rarely to me, decided to give it a shot. Before that time, I had only written a few novellas, some short stories, and a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction. My biggest work at that point was a trilogy of novellas which eventually became a three book novel, A Dewdrop Away. I’d spent years building on the world of Arborand in my head, and along with this world-building there had come the vague idea for a sort of prequel book to the then-trilogy. Why not, I thought? I want to try to make something 50,000 words long!
When I say the idea was vague, I do mean vague. I cannot stress enough how vague it was. But I hadn’t started writing anything. I don’t know if I ever would have started if Nano hadn’t come up. Beforehand, I read some of the pep talks on the site and some of the helpful advice for the months before Nano, all of which served to really fire me up. I didn’t really heed any of this advice though. I was maybe two weeks away from November first when I decided I wanted to participate. I did not write any outlines or do any exercises. When the first came, I just started writing. I did, however, utilize some of the tricks I’d read about, like stuffing my novel with needless adjectives and extraneous words, all under the promise of I’ll Come Back and Edit this Later. It was a tough battle though- everything I’d previously written had gone very slow, under a regimen of ‘I’ll work on this when I feel inspired’ or ‘I don’t have time with school’. Around the legendary second week, I felt completely dried up, had no idea where my story was going, and thought constantly of quitting. But then one thing came to me. Just when that had become exhausted, another came to me. And I made it through the entire book that way, just one bit at a time. At the end, I was astounded that my story actually made sense on the whole, that things came together almost magically at times and where my sweaty hands slipped on the wheel, the characters came in and took charge.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow
That was 2007. The book I wrote was entitled Flight. It was originally meant to be a standalone prequel, but later I discovered it was actually the first in a trilogy (I really must like trilogies). I did not come away from Nanowrimo having learned nothing: when I wrote Fall in 2010 and Overworld in 2011, though I did not participate in Nano, I obeyed what Nano had taught me were rules number one and two to success: Have goals, and ensure that you meet them no matter what. So I made my goal 10,000 words a week, and every week I ensured I made it to that goal by writing *something* every day, with whatever time I had that day. Writing every day also ensured that I stayed absorbed in the world, which helped inspire me to find that next leading action or scene.
For a while, I believed I’d learned all I needed to learn from Nanowrimo, got all I wanted to get out of it. Then I went through a dry spell where I didn’t get anything of much length or import completed. For a good couple of years. I was getting desperate and depressed and just plain weird. And I thought, November is coming up! I should use Nano to get me going again! I had the rough draft of a novel I’d written in 11/12 which was set up for a sequel. It was perfect. My overwhelming response to this suggestion was No. There’s stuff I could be editing. I should edit things first.
That’s probably just an evasion tactic you’re using. Think how bad you’ll feel if you don’t do it and then you don’t get your editing done either.
I’m terrified of jumping into a new novel. It’s been two years and I still don’t know where I was going with that story. Let’s not and say we did!
There was another reason I considered Nano in 2014: to explore an aspect of it I hadn’t experienced previously, away at college- the community.
The very idea gave me brain freeze. As someone with considerable social anxiety as well as driving-related anxiety, this sounded like a giant no. But still, that other part of me persisted:
You can use mapquest. You don’t have to take highways. No one else will be in the car with you.
After you actually meet them, you know it’s not as bad.
You will feel so good about yourself.
And that was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was something I needed.
When it got to October 31st, I was still having internal turmoil and had no idea whether I was doing Nanowrimo or not. I had created a new profile on the site, joined my region, even made a couple tentative forum posts, but I wouldn’t allow myself to say I’d decided. It was a very uncomfortable Halloween. I did not set an alarm for the 1st. I slept in as a result, and when I got up I thought, Well, it’s too late anyway. I write best in the mornings.
Directly after having this thought, I took my laptop from its place on the floor beside my bed, propped it up on my lap and wrote some words. I wrote words until I hit 1,500, and then I stopped and logged my progress on the site. Accomplishment flooded through me. How was it that something so easy had taken so long to do? But I knew the answer. It was always this way with writing; I think it is for most writers. There was a kickoff meeting that day not too far from me, but I had another appointment elsewhere and used that as an excuse not to go. But I’d started writing.
By the end of Nanowrimo 2014, I had written something every single day even when it meant getting up at 4 a.m. to get in writing before an eleven hour work day. I had also attended two meet-ups. At the first one, I got there early and watched everyone else come in, set up and write for nearly half an hour before I got the courage to go over and join them. At the second, I was one of three people because there had been some mix-ups. At both I felt really spectacular by the end. There was something oddly binding about sitting together with a bunch of strangers and typing for a few hours. And magical: I probably got more writing done faster in those couple of meetups than I ever did alone. Part of it was due to the ten minute word sprints, which were a lot of fun (and which don’t work nearly as well without competition, though I’ve tried). But part of it was the knowledge that everyone in the room had the same goal as me. The sound of their fingers clicking the keys made my fingers feel like clicking even if they didn’t know what the hell they were clicking.
So it is that I finished the second rough draft in what will hopefully be a trilogy (I told you about the trilogies) in early January this year. I no longer believe that Nano has nothing to offer me anymore…in fact, I believe it has a lot more to offer me. Next year, I plan to challenge myself to participate once again and to go to more meetups than the last, and I am also looking forward to participating in Camp Nanowrimo (https://campnanowrimo.org/sign_in) for the VERY first time this April or July (or both? heh). JOIN ME
So Nanowrimo? Has come to mean a lot to me in more than one way. I’ve participated twice, seven years apart, and learned two different sorts of lessons that have helped my writing to no end. Who would I recommend it to? Everyone. Whether you’re ‘serious’ about writing or not, everyone’s had a story idea at some point, and you can’t say no to a good healthy self-challenge 😉
Take care and see you next week!