Last year a colleague suggested I try NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I decided to take the plunge, having no idea where it would take me or if I could even meet the terms of the challenge: To write a novel from scratch in 30 days. To write 50,000 words. And maybe hardest of all, to write approximately 1700 words every single day of the month.
What was I thinking? I’ve written a couple of novels… and that took almost twenty years!
All the same, I gave it a shot, thinking that I’d be able to get a little writing done, and test out a new story idea.
I had no idea how much it would change me.
I wrote about my experience just after NaNo 2013 concluded, but now it’s been a whole year. In the past eleven months, I’ve become a much more serious writer, and now I do my best to write or edit every day for at least a couple of hours. Sometimes I’m still writing at dawn. I’ve spent countless, wonderful hours over the past year rewriting, editing and shaping the novel I “completed” in November, which as it turned out was barely a fraction of what my novel would become. Along the way, I’ve invented new characters, created a new antagonist while turning my bad guy into a hero of sorts, and explored all kinds of twists and turns, highways and byways.
It’s been both rewarding and frustrating, because let’s face it: editing is hard work.
Writing a 50,000 word novel is difficult, but turning that into a quality piece of fiction is a whole different beast.
What I didn’t expect about NaNo was how it would change me as a person. In addition to taking my writing more seriously, I’ve begun to interact with other writers, and have made new friends. I’ve researched publishing options. I’ve written more blog posts. I read different books, and more of them. And now, every Facebook post or TV show or conversation with friends over beer could turn into something amazing.
As the month of October races on, I’ve redoubled my efforts to finish the draft of my first novel so that I can start with a clean(ish) slate come November 1st. There are a lifetime of possible stories in the new world I’ve created, and so this year’s novel will be a sequel of last year’s. This comes with the benefit of having some ready-made characters and backstory, and hopefully will help me refine and expand upon some ideas that I can later port back into novel #1.
While I’m very excited to be able to once again create something new, I’m a little apprehensive about what I’ll have to do once December arrives. I’m still not completely done with my last novel; will I end up with editing debt? It’s a bit intimidating. Nonetheless, I shall press on and see what happens. I’m hoping that having a better idea of the concept of this story, and a possible ending, will keep me from getting way off track, so that my editing process will be a bit cleaner. I also anticipate being a bit more organized and clever in how I approach the task in general, having done it successfully once and learned a lot of lessons along the way.
With that in mind, these are my recommendations to myself and to anyone else who wants to give NaNo a shot this year:
- Have a clear idea of the novel’s concept, even if you have no idea of the plot.
- Start getting to know your main character(s) before you start. Give them names, occupations, a couple personality quirks.
- Have at least a vague idea for how the novel should end. Maybe even write the ending first. That way you know where you’re going. (I wish I had done this last year!)
- Don’t plan too much out in advance… allow each day to be an adventure.
- Write fast and furiously for the first week while the ideas are fresh and your energy’s plentiful, and get way ahead of your wordcount. That might save you later in the month.
- Make a solemn promise to yourself to not edit as you go (it’s hard to do it, but very liberating!).
- Deny the existence of writer’s block. If you get stuck, just start typing anything. Seriously. Even if it’s just “I don’t know what I want to write about tonight. I’m tired and I don’t know where to take my character now…” What happens when you do that is some of the most powerful magic I’ve ever experienced.
- Meet fellow NaNo writers in person, on the NaNo forums, on the NaNo facebook group, or wherever you can find them. Lean on them for encouragement, inspiration, accountability, and friendship. 🙂
For a writer, participating in NaNoWriMo is one of the greatest adventures we can ever have. I can’t wait until November 1st!