Everything I come across these days seems to be about NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short). Perhaps it’s the algorithm gods targeting me. For those who don’t know, NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month and is an exercise in writing approximately 1600 words every day for the entire month of November, to end up with the first draft of a novel.
Believe me, it’s no joke. The exercise of writing every day is huge and many a first drafts are written during such sprees. Sitting down each day to pound out 1600+ words may sound like nothing–or for some it may sound impossible–but the idea is to make the commitment to yourself and be accountable.
It’s only October, but people are outlining and plotting for their November masterpieces. The process is different for everyone. There’s a lot of information out there on the “how”~~ HERE and HERE are articles I’ve written. The first is about setting yourself up for success and the second is 15 alternative to the traditional NaNo. They’re very helpful and informative~~make sure you check them out.
Today I want to share my personal experience with the phenomenon of NaNo.
The first time I did it, I made it about three or four days before I threw my hands in air to surrender and walk away from the mess I’d created. I didn’t beat myself up because I realized I obviously wasn’t ready. I had no idea what I was doing. I swore to myself that I’d be ready for the following year.
The next year, was no different. Who was I trying to fool? I had a husband who worked out of town and an elementary school age child whose schedule was of course, also my own. Any free time from caring for him was spent vegging in front of the TV, reading a book, or desperately trying to keep up with the house.
I had to face the fact that at that point in my life, even though I was writing and selling freelance articles and columns on a regular basis, I was not a novelist.
That realization didn’t crush me, it actually pushed me to learn. I started scouring websites to garner what lessons I could about creative writing. It struck me, that while I thought I had all the talents and knowledge in the world (heck, I’d been to a writing conference and everything!–place exaggerated eye roll here…lol), I still had SO much to learn.
The learning itself was a journey of self discovery. LOL. Wow…doesn’t that sound like some snotty book jacket of some high falootin’ writer who suddenly thinks they know everything. It’s funny because you take a class or two and you think–ahhh I get it. I can do that but then a class would come along and the jargon was unfamiliar (wth was a scene? conflict? active voice? huh? show don’t tell? I don’t get it!) I soon realized just how little I actually knew. The writing world and all its mysteries were still all behind a heavy velvet curtain and I’d barely tugged the edge.
I so desperately wanted in and with hard work I achieved that goal.
But let’s just back up again to NaNo for a minute.
Over the years I practiced my writing and wrote as much as I could and sent it out into the world. I got published in Writer’s Digest (full page!)–that was a huge deal for me–it was a true validation of what I was doing made a difference. I won writing contests, was recognized for my unique style, I did newspaper columns, and yes I completed NaNo a couple of times. The first resulted in the novel for which I later signed a representation contract with The Rights Factory Literary Agency.
The novel had started years before in 2014. The particular idea and theme for the book had banged away in my head for years. I *knew* all the players, their motivations, and quirks. It was a Young Adult Thriller. The characters and all their problems were a part of me. And, perhaps that is why I was successful in finishing that book–but I didn’t finish it that November.
Nope it didn’t happen.
I failed many times doing NaNo. Maybe making it a week only to run out of steam to let the project fall by the wayside. 2014 was different though. I wrote something I knew and believed in–the ideas flowed from the beginning but I was interrupted by life.
I was so over the top excited when I started writing on November 1st, 2014. I curled up in my comfy black leather chair with a blanket, hot coffee, and my laptop to get to work. It was like magic. I felt ready to tackle the project and so did my muse. The words flew onto the page as the characters grew and the plot and setting took shape… until the phone call on November 14, 2014.
**heavy heavy sigh**
As I pounded on the keys I received a call saying my mom had died. I’d been with her for an extended period just two weeks before. My heart broke. She’d been sick for a couple of months and was hospitalized. While it was difficult, it wasn’t unexpected but that still didn’t make it any easier.
The last line I wrote in my NaNo draft was….”you’re grandmother died tonight.“
That was not part of the original plot but ended up being pivotal to the remainder of the book.
That manuscript sat untouched until April of 2015 when I finally had the mental energy to return to the project. I completed the entire novel. Read through it (I thought that was a full edit), made a few changes, cleaned it up some and then sent it out to some beta readers. For the most part it came back with positive feedback so I changed it up again and then sat on it because I didn’t know what to do.
Well, fast forward to 2021, that book looks absolutely nothing like it did when I first finished it. Not only has it been edited and rewritten several times, it gone through professional readers –all of whom have a fucking different opinion–grrr! It’s a process of exhausting proportions and one that I will continue to mold and form into something for the masses–or maybe I won’t.
I thought this book was going to be my break-out novel, but alas I’m still waiting. Since then, I have written two more full length novels which require full rewrites. One was written like a NaNo project during April 2020. I believe all the projects are worthy of publication and will see the press. It’s just a matter of time and patience….and perhaps some very hard work on my part. I need to move my butt and get focused and disciplined to get these done.
NaNoWriMo is a great way to start but keep in mind you get from it what you put in. NaNo is a great tool and you can use it for accountability and inspiration. Don’t give up on yourself if you can’t finish a complete novel. Go up and read my article on alternatives. The idea is not to punish or berate yourself for falling short–on the contrary–it’s a celebration of moving forward in your writing journey. No matter how far you get, it’s more than you did the day before.
I know I will.
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