In March 2008 I was in a discussion group lead by local author Alison Penton Harper as part of our council’s Readers Day. One of the other attendees mentioned she was planning for NaNoWriMo. I’d heard of it before and knew the basic idea (50,000 words in 30 days), but I’d been quite happy writing short stories and the odd bit of poetry (and sometimes less odd) having not wanted to spend a year on one story. So this was my light-bulb moment; the perfect answer – a novel in a month.
As November drew near, I dug out my ideas file and University of Leicester course notes. It dawned on me what a mountainous task lay ahead. As I found what I was sure was the longest thing I’d ever written (it was) of epic proportions (it wasn’t) I was horrified. It was barely over 3,000 words. Now I was being asked to do the same (at least) every other day. Not one to be put off and with a clear deadline looming (if you ever want me to do something never say whenever suits), I set to work. I found a college piece which brought back fond memories. Armed with that, I fleshed out the characters, wrote a vague outline, set up a geeky Excel spreadsheet to track my progress, and eagerly awaited November 1st.
I started off strongly (Stephen King would tutt at me for using an adverb) with 10,057 words by day four, stalled with a zero word count on day five (and 13, 22, 24, 29), but achieved the required average 1,667 words on other days, catching up with two 6,000-worders. I’d reached the 50,000-word target on day 26 so I relaxed, writing just 2,595 words by month-end, when the story naturally ended.
Although I’d plotted further on than I’d actually written, I loved the freedom to waffle (which you can do to a point but it still has to be there for a reason) and create more lives than in a short story (the way they take over is still my favourite aspect of writing).
During the month you plot your progress on your page of the NaNoWriMo website’s chart and see the (from memory) green bar slide along from 0 until it reaches the 50,000 and turns purple. Then you’re announced as a winner. In the meantime you can make buddies, join the forums, and even meet in real life (I did in 2009). Although you don’t physically win anything, you have the satisfaction of a job well done (regardless of how bad you think your first draft is) and get to choose icons that you can splatter all over your website or blog (which I did with relish).
Although NaNoWriMo is annual, you can sign up any time. It’s all free and they keep it going by donations (which I did) and their goodies shop (I bought a t-shirt last year). They also have http://campnanowrimo.org for the first time this summer and http://scriptfrenzy.org; 100 pages of script in April – which I did 2010, not a format I liked but it became the start of a later novel.
I loved the process of my first NaNo so much I repeated it in 2009, writing a 117,540-word chick lit novel… yes, in the month, I’ve been a secretary for 20-something years so can type quickly. And again in 2010 which produced a 51,053-word self-indulgent and therapeutic crime novel which will either never see light of day or receive major plastic surgery.
Although I am now revisiting my first love (short stories) and am looking at eBooks, I plan to join in every November and would recommend it to anyone. Other than a month of your life, you have nothing to lose. Even if your first draft is dire, and it may not be as bad as you think if you leave it a while and come back to it, you’ve got words on paper (or computer screen) and that’s much easier to edit than a blank page.
November 2011 will be NaNo’s 13th year (thanks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Novel_Writing_Month). With hundreds of thousands (I kid you not) of worldwide participants, I can only see it growing in strength. I know my writing will follow suit because even if practice doesn’t make this writer perfect, I’ll at least have given it a shot.
After enjoying English at school then dabbling with limericks in her 20s, Morgen came back to writing through a local college evening workshop in January 2005. It swiftly became a passion which over the past couple of years has turned into obsession. She has written four and a bit novels, over 100 short stories, a script and a half, some poetry and most recently articles in the NAWG Link magazine. In August 2010 she started the Bailey's Writing Tips weekly podcast then late March 2011 a blog which initially consisted of information she provides to her writing group, and some of her fiction but mid-June 2011 she added daily (which by day 4 became twice-daily) author interviews. She is always looking for writers of any genre published or non-published to take part and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does committing to a challenge like NaNoWriMo motivate you?