In eighty-eight days, it will be the first of November. Novembero Uno. When that first second ticks from Halloween into All Saints Day, people will start writing. With every hour that passes, and each timezone enters the beginning of a new month, more and more people will join in. Ones, tens, hundreds and then thousands. Last year there were 598,009 participants, all striving to write 50,000 words within a month.
Welcome to the phenomenon that is National Novel Writing Month. Aka, NaNoWriMo.
You can go through all the history and other related minutiae on the site linked above, so instead I’ll address my title.
When I first learned about it, it seemed insane. It’s not as though I didn’t know that one weird trick all the pros use to get their novels written. I knew you had to get through the first draft before you could begin to make it better, but it was one of those pieces of knowledge you know only as a fact, as you’ve not yet learned it through experience. Life has a lot of facts like that, like not slamming the brakes when your car fishtails. It defies instinct. Ditto with writing your first draft – here’s this thing you KNOW can or could be brilliant, but the instinct is to spend more time with it when first putting it down, so you can get it as good as possible now.
At the time, the longest thing I’d written was around 12,000 words long, and it was not in a readable state. It was a hodge-podge of prose, planning, and many versions of the same conversations bundled together as I didn’t know which was best. On and off, that one took me years to write, and I never really felt as though I made progress. Sure, I had an entire plan. Well, two-thirds of a plan and an unclear final third. The point was that if 12,000 words in 2 or so years was a stretch to me, 50,000 in 30 days? It didn’t seem possible.
The first year I knew about it, I forgot until after it had passed. The second time I found word of it, I signed up straight away, forever entwining my fate with this strange word-laden event. At the beginning of November 2009, I joined the fray.
I didn’t do a lot of preparation. Historically, this has rarely been true of my writing. Most of my WIPs from my teen years through to the beginning of NaNo were rife with lots of planning, usually to do with premises, but in a few cases they ran the entire course of the story. Sometimes stories. The more that I planned out, the less actual writing I seemed to do, and forever found myself able to add more details to any plan. I was the stereotype of the wannabe – forever starting, never finishing, and always finding some new story that appealed more than what I was writing.
It couldn’t last.
A New Method
It was the middle of October, and I had no idea what I was doing. I think I’d told some friends I was going to take part. I’d definitely told some colleagues. In truth, I had no idea what I was going to write about, but felt it was too late to give up. One of the core tenets of NaNoWriMo was that you don’t really need a plan to start writing – that you can just start writing and see where it goes, but this was me. I needed to know what I was writing. I needed SOMETHING.
It was around this time that I read an article about science fiction. It’s my stand-out favourite genre, and with occasional exceptions, the one I tend to write in most. I don’t remember the source of the article, nor the precise content, but it was a criticism along the lines of ‘Science Fiction doesn’t/rarely addresses social structure outside of human ones’. Even that might be a mangled version of what it really said, but it got me thinking about what constants there are in our society or place in the world – what was a truth so integral to humanity that we would have blinders around the subject?
The one I came to, is that we’re at the top of a food chain. We aren’t fed upon by some predator, and we certainly don’t have to deal with being picked off just-because. True, you could stretch it so that death itself was a predator, but we don’t treat it as a constant, or a fact of life. We don’t live our day-to-day the best we can, because we see it as the exception to our state, instead of an unalterable truth. Death, the constant looming over all of us, is still an aberration.
The idea came out of that, and I wanted to write a story where members of a society were picked off by a predator with such commonality, that it became an accepted constant. The protagonist would be an outsider, an everyman who saw this state of being as unnatural. Armed with the idea, I wanted to plan. I did recognise that going into detail would possibly detract from the writing process, and I wanted to begin with as much momentum as I could. So I planned out a sequence of ten events that would happen over the course of the novel, and got ready to begin.
By the end of November, I had 53K words… more than three times as long as the previous longest thing I’d ever written.
A One-Shot Deal?
For NaNoWriMo 2010, I was much more nervous than I was in the previous. There were expectations now. I’d proven I was capable of writing 50K in a month, but repeating the feat was another issue. The worst of it was that after an hour into the start of November, I felt like everything I’d written was horrible and that it was a mistake to even consider doing it again. I’d tempted fate and now I’d show the world I had no business being a writer. I stopped at 2am on that first day of November, went to bed, and vowed to try again in the morning. It went better. I even thought it was ‘okay’. By the end of the day, I’d found the momentum again, and was ready to go on creating.
The following two years did not go quite as successfully, to the point that 2011 was a downright failure. I can look at 2012 and see my 25K for that year and think yeah, I made some mistakes but I did alright, all things considered. 2011, no.
With 2013 being my first year as a (co-)Municipal Liaison, and having missed the target of the previous two Novembers, the pressure on getting to 50K was high. Obviously all of that pressure came from myself, but it was high. Let’s skip to the result and yep, I got there. Three out of five isn’t all that bad, but it’s coming up again this November.
Is Any Of This Really Why?
Okay, no. All of this so far has been anecdotal experiences about NaNoWriMo, and how it works, or kind of works.
The reason why you should do it, is because it’s a great way to get a first draft out, and quickly.
The combination of the 50,000 words required, and the mere 30 days means you’re writing 1667 words a day. That means you need to be consistent at writing over the course of the month (great habit builder), yet you also don’t have the luxury of spending time to get everything right. The deadline means you have to go through the writing, not think quite as much, and trust that you’re writing something you can finish and improve later.
There are tips and tricks to help you keep your momentum, to keep you on track, and to meet other writers going through the same thing. Believe this – that sharing of pain helps!
The people that NaNoWriMo is especially pertinent for, are those that have been meaning to finish a novel ‘some day’.
Do It Because
Do it because it gives you a deadline.
Do it because it doesn’t expect perfection.
Do it because you’ll have to stop deliberating over the right way to say things, and have to just say them.
Do it because the story you want to write might not be the story you think it is.
Do it because writing a story this way can give you a bounty of surprises in the narrative.
Do it because you’ll meet other writers and be able to talk to them about your story, their story, craft, fandom, and pretty much any topic imaginable.
Do it because you are tired of not finishing what you begin.
Do it because it will start a habit.
Do it because a few months later, you’ll be able to look at this strange story you wrote, and find things you’d forgotten you’d written.
Do it because the word because is starting to look weird to me.
If you’re a long-time reader of Fictioner’s Net, you’ll know it’s not the first time I’ve written about it. There’s a few other posts here, and for the sake of insight, I’ll list them here:
- December 4, 2012 – My NaNoWriMo Round-Up
- October 16, 2013 – The NaNoWriMo Plan-Plan
- October 23, 2013 – Write Your Novel Now(ish)
- October 30, 2013 – Firsts
- BTTF Day 2013 – I Have No Idea What I’m Doing
- N7 Day 2013 – Cue the Nays
- November 13, 2013 – Mini-Pep
- November 25, 2013 – The Final Stretch
Beyond that, NaNoWriMo 2013 was where I started writing For More Than Earthly Ends, the WIP novel I’m well… working on. It took a little extra to finish the first draft, but after reading through it twice, I started working on a rewrite. So long as you write something you care about, no matter how good or bad your writing is, it’s a worthwhile experience.