Until this September, I never thought I had a novel in me. In high school I attempted to write various novels now and then, but never got past the first several pages. However, one of my resolutions for 2012 was to write one 500-word essay per week for the blog and in doing that, something shifted in me. I wrote a 6,500-word essay in August about one moment in my life when things could have gone differently and that caused me to wonder how my life would be different if things had gone in that direction. And that became a book.
But that wasn’t the book I wrote for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, pronounced Naah-know-WRY-mo). For those of you not in the know, NaNoWriMo takes place in the month of November when thousands of writers across the country band together to write novels. Or at least 50,000 words of a
novel. That’s a goal of 1,667 words per day which is more than triple my original 500-word essay goal, but is doable.
The rules for NaNoWriMo say you have to start your novel on November 1. So the 36,000 words I had written on the book inspired by my long essay were set aside for a new book. It turns out I have not only A book in me but TWO books in me.
To prepare, I outlined the new book and had sketched out the characters before I began. I also attended the NaNoWriMo kickoff party for my region. We all (and there were probably over 100 people in the room) went around and said something about our book. I quietly groaned when we started, annoyed
that we had to listen to everyone talk about their book. But as people shared about their novels, I was surprised how much fun it was. A lot of people in the room were “pants-ing” it, meaning they had no plan, but would just start writing. I was interested to see how many people had their title picked out because I’m not one for titles, myself. The first book I was working on is currently called “Chapters” because it’s longer than an essay and this current one has the catchy moniker of “Untitled LO YA fic.” One woman even had written the blurb for the back of the book which she read aloud to us.
There were several fabulous story ideas in the room and a lot of laughter. I got a sense of who had “won” (finished their novel) vs. who had not won. Some people reported that their previous NaNoWriMo novel was published (some self-published, some e-book, some traditional published) and the mood in the room was giddy and full of fun. I came home excited to begin.
The daily writing quota wasn’t terribly difficult. I could meet the daily goal of 1667 words in about 90 minutes. I do have the luxury of a 32-hour work week, and for me, November is the best month to embark on a writing project as I don’t work very much due to the school schedule. I had a four-day weekend and an entire week off. Because of that, I was able to write more words per day than the minimum. My self-imposed quota during Thanksgiving week was 2500 words per day which I exceeded five days out of seven, with one day being a spectacular 3024-word day. That’s six times the 500-word essay word count.
I didn’t write on four days of the month (November 16 and then November 28-30. Once I hit that quota I flamed out). But except for three or so days, I could sit
down and crank out the words. At this point I’m not sure how good the whole thing is, because one of the other NaNoWriMo rules is you can’t go back and edit during the month. I’m also not finished. I think there another 5000 words or so before I can wrap things up.
But is 50,000 words really a novel? Not really, it’s kind of a novella-length. However, I think that in writing 50,000 words that fast a lot of “fleshing out” is missing, at least for my book. I think I’ve got a good overall structure and when I go back to revise I’ll put in more details. I’ll also fix all my wrong word choices and spelling errors.
I liked the fast pace because it meant I couldn’t waste time on small details which would have tripped me up. For instance, in my book I have a minor character who is a gossip. She appears early on and then pops up near the end. When she emerged again I couldn’t remember her name so rather than looking back to figure out where she was and getting caught up in earlier syntax I just wrote [earlier gossip] instead of her name and moved on. Other characters just got quick placeholder names: Mr. Bioteacher, Ms. Englishclass, etc.
The fast pace also meant I had to produce every day, even if I felt like what I was writing was crap. Most days when I peeked back (I only peeked, I didn’t revise) it wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt when writing it. And sometimes something brilliant would just happen, a magical trick of the creative process that I have read about for years and was amazed when it happened to me too.
I noticed an interesting difference in attitudes about people participating in NaNoWriMo vs. people who weren’t. NaNoWriMo participants are unfailingly
supportive. It’s like a thing. Whereas I noticed that some regular people
had a lot of questions, most in the vein of “so is anything really going to
come of this?” And for a lot of people, I think no, nothing will come of it, if you define “something” as “getting published.” But I think that the point
of the month isn’t to publish; it’s to create. I think the crazily supportive NaNoWriMo community would agree.
I created a lot over the month. All those words, sure. But also characters were built, relationships were built, story was built. I am happy I made all of those things, and that’s where I win.