Aka: National Novel Writing Month.
A challenge to writers to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November.
If you answered yes, then you just may be correct.
Unless you’re a writer, or are friends with one, chances are that you haven’t heard NaNoWriMo. And if you’re not a writer, you may also be thinking to yourself… “Why would anyone ever put themselves through that kind of torture?” Because, if you really stop to think about it, 50,000 words is A LOT of writing. Especially if you think about the big picture and having to write all that in a month’s time. Remember those exercises in English class when you had to write a 500 word paragraph? Yeah, that’s nothing.
If you divide out the 50,000 words by the 30 days given to you to write them, that leaves you with a daily goal of about 1,666 words. From my four years of experience with WriMo, that’s about 2-3 pages of writing, depending on your font size and your spacing. It might not seem like a whole lot, and there are two sides to that argument:
– If you have a clear goal in your head of what you want to write, if you’re buzzing with excitement to sit down at the computer and put your fingers on the keys and take off like a marathon runner, then no… it’s really not. (I’ve had these days. You sit down to write and the words just flow from your fingers like magic and the world around you fades away and you become lost in the story – completely unaware of the fading daylight or of the fact that you haven’t ate in six hours.)
– And then, there are your off days. Or, for some writers, maybe these are your normal days (and the aforementioned seem to be flukes, though ones that you wish you could repeat on a more frequent basis.) You have the story in your head, maybe even clear as day, but you sit down to write… and your mind is a blank wasteland, complete with tumble weeds and swirling clouds of dust, choking out all creative thought. You keep your butt in your chair, telling yourself that you just need a second. And yet, an hour passes, and all you’ve managed to do is check the same four sites over and over, eaten a bag of oreos, stared at the wall, and have somehow found yourself either washing dishes, reading a book, or lost deep in the abyss of Youtube, watching endless cat videos… or, possibly answered the siren call of Netflix. (Unfortunately Netflix and NaNoWriMo start with the same letter – guess which one comes up first in my browser when I type the letter “N”…)
Though I’ve had great years regarding NaNoWriMo, I’ll be frank and say that 2015 fell into the latter category about 95% of the time.
Am I proud of that? No.
Either way, for those that follow, here’s a more in depth look at how November shaped up on the writing front:
With NaNoWriMo, this day has become a night filled with both dread and anticipation. The downfall here is that Halloween is my favorite holiday, so I like to dress up (not that I don’t any other random day of the year) and enjoy myself, but there’s also that lingering thought in my mind that once the clock strikes midnight, it’s time to place butt in chair and get to writing. Starting to write at midnight and getting the majority of my word count done at night before I go to bed so that I have words to wake up to has become my way of blasting through WriMo since first undertaking the challenge back in 2012.
Halloween night: It was chilly, windy, and I’m pretty sure it was rainy as well, but I still dressed up – nothing like wandering the house dressed as my villain from Nyte-Fyre (that’s one way to get into the writing mood, and literally into character). My best friend came over and we ate candy and watched movies.
I wrote a good chunk of the second Nyte-Fyre novel last year for NaNoWriMo, and with that 50,000 words, it was some of my best writing to boot. So, easy enough to pick up where I left off in the midst of quite the commotion in the storyline, right? I thought so anyways. With the final push to publish my first novel, I had kind of burned myself out on writing/editing and hadn’t done much writing since the end of August. But, I was still excited to continue on the path that “Isle of Hell” was taking me down. I knew the main points of where the storyline was taking me, and I’ve known the ending of this particular novel for over a year and a half.
I sit down to write around noon the next day (possibly my first mistake: I didn’t start writing at midnight as per usual), and… nothing. On that first day, I wrote a whopping 59 words. Yes… not even 100 words.
Despite all my enthusiasm, I just wasn’t feeling that writing magic. I wrote a sentence, didn’t care for it, and walked away. Got distracted, and never got back to the computer that day. I went to bed feeling disappointed in myself, but that was okay. It was only the first day, and I could easily catch up with one good writing spree and be back on track. I still had this.
Though still rather unfocused (I still chalk some of this up to the fact that I unfortunately started November with a cold. I was tired, had a runny nose, and mildly irritable.), I sat down and did my best to write. I ended up writing just under 2,500 words – great for a day of writing, and over the daily WriMo goal… except that it didn’t bring me back up to par with that golden line that you strive to keep up with on the WriMo website throughout the month. Once again, I told myself that that was fine… it was only day two. Even if I just wrote a couple hundred more words than the 1,666 a day, I would catch up in a matter of days. It sounded easy enough in my head, anyways.
November 4-6 – 2015
Once again, easier said than done. My mind just wasn’t focused, my heart ultimately not in the game. And let me tell you, no matter how many years you’ve been writing, it’s just not easy to put words to the page when you’re feeling that way. The writing becomes a chore, and real chores, like cleaning the house, become far more appealing than they would on any other given day. However, like any true writer (or, stubborn person) I continued to write, sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes with a little more fervor than someone giving a cat a bath. I wrote at least 1,000 words a day – sometimes going beyond the daily 1,666 word goal, sometimes falling short. However, it felt like I always remained consistently 1,000 to 1,500 words below that line. I shrugged… so I had a bad starting week. It wasn’t the end of the world.
November 8-9 – 2015
And then my first 0 word day hit. Nothing new, to be honest. In the four years I’ve done WriMo, I’ve always had a couple days where I wrote absolutely nothing. However, they were usually far later in the month, when I’d reached a bit of a writing burn out. Looking at my past calendars that I’ve printed for keeping track of WriMo word counts only left my guilt worse – on day nine on the first year I participated I had already technically won the competition.
That day was followed by a second 0 word day. It wasn’t looking good. Two days with not a word written, and quickly falling far behind target.
I refused to let myself be saddled with a third 0 word day, and yet, I sat at the computer and couldn’t contemplate what to write. I printed out the last chapter that I had written the previous WriMo year and studied it, and it occurred to me that maybe the reason I was having problems was that in my rush to finish WriMo in 2014, I had kind of blended scenes from 2-3 chapters into one in order to get my thoughts on the page and to finish (I had a relatively difficult time in 2014 as well, but nothing like this year). Was that my ultimate problem? Did I simply need to go back and write out that chapter as it should have been? Maybe, and who knows where it would have ended had I done that. However, still feeling rather uninspired, I didn’t feel like getting out another sheet of paper and sifting through my thoughts to create the outline that I should have done in the last weeks of October in the first place. Yet, I just couldn’t get myself back on track with the second book. So, I did the next best thing… I moved on. In the same document, I started writing a relatively new scene in my head that is actually a part of the after novella that I’m planning for the Nyte-Fyre series (after book 7 or 8). With something fresh and new in my mind, I did far better, managing 3,400 words that day.
November 11-15 – 2015
I did okay for a few days, and then troubles started to arise again. I had a few more 0 word days. I had other days where I hardly even managed a couple hundred words. Despite having so much story material in my head, I began to lose hope.
November 16-29 – 2015
And so that idea continued to fester in my head. The halfway point came and went, and I continued to struggle along. The lure of Netflix become brighter. What was usually cold weather at this time of year had given way to warmer temperatures than was normal, leaving me to want to play outside, rather than sit at my desk. I fell victim to both.
However, no matter how down I was feeling on the writing front, I kept going. I wondered at times if maybe this time couldn’t be better spent on doing something else… anything else. Yet, I routinely sat at the computer and opened Word. Sometimes I wrote a few paragraphs before losing ambition. Other times I stared at the screen and wrote absolutely nothing.
But, the one thing that separates true writers from those that simply say they write, is just as simple as that: be it good days or bad days, we continue to write.
The greatest thing about NaNoWriMo is that although you are competing alongside millions of others, none of those people are your enemies. The only enemy, and the only true competition, is yourself and that nagging voice in the back of your mind saying that you can’t do it. And it’s to prove that mocking voice wrong that we keep going, despite how little hope we feel.
November 30-2015 (Do or Die)
And finally, it was the last day of the competition. Never before had I ever been writing on the last day. You can start validating your word count around the 25th, and I usually do. But this year it was actually down to the wire, and I finally understood the panic of the last days that I had heard other people speak of. I had never been in this position, but the thing was that I could have easily quit at any time during this competition, and yet, I didn’t. Here I was on the last day with 48,000 words. I couldn’t quit now.
The thing was, that it was the last day – whether I finished or not, this was the last day. I could wake up the next morning, a winner. Or I could wake up, having come some close, yet still so far, and feeling that utter disappointment in myself that plagues us writers constantly.
So, though it took me most of the day, I wrote.
And, low and behold: I finished!
I got my pretty certificate saying that I was a winner, and the pride in myself that, although difficult, I still powered through.
And, maybe that in itself made the win all that much better – knowing just how close I had come to losing, to giving up. It felt in a way that if I were to give up, I wouldn’t just be giving up on the 2015 round of NaNoWriMo, but on my writing dreams. A little dramatic? Of course, we’re writers, that’s what we do best.
But, I had just published a giant novel, I couldn’t let myself fail now.
I’m pretty sure I had a tea and simply stared at the wall after writing that last hundred words and validating my word count – 50,732 words.
Though it wasn’t nearly as magical as the first year I participated, I still feel a thrill looking back even now – 14 days after the fact – and realizing that even if I think they’re the shittiest combination of words in the history of the universe, I still wrote 50,000 words, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. 78 pages isn’t just a few thoughtless paragraphs to throw out later. I’m certain that, although it’s definitely not publishing material, there’s definitely some gems in there that I can mine later.
The fact is, that I powered through.
As I say to people who ask about NaNoWriMo, or in these posts each subsequent year, the greatest thing about this competition, is that whether you’re an actual published author, or still a kid in middle school with writing dreams, or just someone that writes as a hobby, NaNoWriMo brings out some form of writer in us all – begging us to simply write. No one ever needs to read what you wrote, and that single thought in itself can be one of the most freeing realizations. It gives you the opportunity to suck. It’s not going to be published. It’s not going to be graded. It’s only going to be read if you decide to give it to someone else to scan through. The truth of the matter is that you don’t even ever have to read it again yourself. If you want to delete all 50,000 words on December 1, then go for it… though I wouldn’t advise it.
The solid fact is that you completed what many see as an unattainable goal, and that right there is something you should be proud of.
Even if you didn’t make it to 50,000… whether you wrote 500 words or 20,000, before calling it quits, you still have more than what you started with. And that right there is something that usually keeps me going throughout the month.
What I think helped even more this year was the NaNoWriMo community. One thing I’ve discovered is that if you’re on social media, you can connect with so many people over one common goal during a challenge like this. I know one girl that I follow on DeviantArt that wrote over 220,000 words! (Supremely jealous! Blows my first year 100,000 out of the water). And I know another girl over on Twitter that powered through and wrote 10,000 words on that last day and won with less than an hour to go.
It was the posts of all these other writers that kept me going, and that reminded me that all writers are different and yet the same. Some really can power through, day after day with what appears to be little problem. And others, like me, really do have trouble most of the time, and yet we still keep going… why? Because, whether the muse regularly visits or not, we still love writing (even when we declare that we hate it.)
And at the end of the day, that’s what makes us writers:
Whether people know about our goals and ambitions or not, we power on, and we write. Because, deep in our hearts, we know: We’re writers.
And whether you’re an outliner, or a pantser, we’re all in this together.