I must say from the very start that I love NaNoWriMo.
It’s such a great kick in the pants time of year. Just when the sleepy, depressing winter scene begins to take over and we lose sunlight and all things green and warm (I personally begin to fight the instinct to hibernate in a cave for the next three months – I really do think I may be part-bear) right then our lovely writing community says, “Oh, no you don’t!” It’s time to get moving on that new idea you have and get out to those local write-ins and meet some new people.
Write. Socialize. Repeat.
Writing can be such a lonely activity. There’s no one dictating when you have to write or even that you have to write at all. It’s refreshing to see an entire community of people struggling through the same thing at the same time one month out of the year. I loved seeing the daily word counts and hourly word sprint invites on Twitter. It was incredibly motivating. Especially on those days when it was really cold and gloomy and you just wanted to crawl back under the covers and read. That wasn’t just me, was it? (Totally part-bear, I tell you.)
That being said, I have never given NaNo a really good try. I’ve signed up in years past and have even added a few thousand words to some manuscripts, but not much more than that. This year was going to be different. I was going to win it.
Yes, 50,000 words in 30 days.
Nothing would stop me.
I started my NaNo month with a big bang. I went to a midnight kickoff event on Halloween night and everything. There were about thirty people, some in costumes, crammed into a local IHOP. It was very exciting. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and talked about our projects. I described mine as a super-secret project with a dash of magical realism, which meant that I had no idea what I was going to write about. Although that answer got several laughs, and someone shouted that I had about an hour to figure it out, I did actually have a basic concept of a story that I’d been mulling over in my head, I just hadn’t written anything down.
I wanted to start with a word count of zero.
As the clock approached midnight, there was a palpable build-up of energy in the room, which may have been fueled by mass doses of coffee and starchy breakfast foods brought to us by our underwhelmed cat waitress. We all chatted about our projects, writing styles, and the kind of music we liked. One young male writer seated across from me was really into Norwegian death metal and urban fantasy. Another writer was doing an all poetry NaNo. I thought that was quite ambitious. We talked about my critique partner who just finished a YA novel in verse that was freaking amazing. I met another writer who I swear was my writer-soul twin. We loved all the same things and had the same problem areas – like too much editing during revision. I told her that this was actually one of my goals with this NaNo – to learn how to write a first draft without giving in to my overwhelming need to constantly edit.
Nothing but the clattering of fingers on keys.
After the first break, my word count was already approaching one thousand words. Fantastic! And then came the word sprint challenges. I took my first dare. Total adrenaline! I even worked in some bonus points. The words just flew across the empty page.
In the end, I got a few thousand words written that first night and received my very own box of doom to use at home for word sprints. Isn’t it cute?
The momentum from that first night carried over for the next several days and I attended another write-in the following week. Things were flowing really well. Then during week three, I hit THE WALL. I liken it to the runner’s phenomenon that occurs during long races. You actually feel like you’ve smacked into an invisible, impenetrable forcefield that knocks you flat on your ass. No matter how badly you may want to proceed, you can’t go another step. Mine was a mental barrier that I couldn’t circumvent. I think some part of me was rebelling against all of the structure of the daily writing routine I’d fallen into and all of the non-editing. Too much rewiring for me to handle without a little backlash, I guess. In the end, I moved past it, but I lost valuable writing time. Since I was able to move forward – without editing – I still considered it a win, even though I totally failed to cross the finish line with 50,000 words under my belt.
All total, I came out of NaNo with about 100 pages of manuscript. Easily twenty thousand words more than the year before. I attended four write-ins, which doubled the amount from years past. For me, the write-ins made a huge difference in my progress. That set block of writing time each week where I left the house to be with other writers who would help keep me focused on my goal, that was the best thing for me. I did my best writing then. Well, my most unedited, sprint writing, at least. My main goal for NaNo this year was to write without editing, to push through the urge to fix ugly writing, to not stop and research every single idea that slows down momentum. I made myself become comfortable with notes that said, “add something more about MC past here” or “research this bit about the town history later” or “fill in details fuller later”. At first, this was really hard to do. The important thing was to get down the basic idea first. To see if this story was even worth spending all that extra time on later. And I think this one will be.
That’s where I think I’ve won.
It got easier with practice. I did finally get comfortable with writing in this manner. I know I can do it now. So even though I rebelled like a hormonal teenager, I only had one bad week. Although that set me back and kept me from winning NaNo, I still feel like I accomplished something important. I met some great new writing friends who really encouraged me throughout the month. And best of all, I have a good start to a new story that actually has potential. I’m going to keep working on it until I get through the first draft, but now I don’t have to go at such a fast pace. As long as I fight off that urge to edit, I’ll be good.
So what did you learn from your NaNo experience this year?