This was the first year that I participated in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. In case you don’t know what this is, it is a one month sprint in November to write at least 50,000 words of your novel. I heard about it before and noticed that a couple of books I enjoyed had started out as NaNoWriMo projects. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern was the first one I read that had been a NaNoWriMo winner. “Winner” means that you met the goal of writing at least 50,000 words during the month. This year 175,002 people participated and there were 40,325 winners.
I had thought of participating the previous year, but found out about it too late to start on time. This summer my daughter gave me the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. The author is the founder of NaNoWriMo and the book summarized the idea and provided some strategy. I “got it” immediately. The idea is that you are not going to end the month with a finished novel, but maybe with a first draft, or part of a first draft. To “win” you have to write, not edit and revise. If you get caught up in revisions, you will never get to 50,000 words.
The organization and website were run in a good manner. Periodically there were some words of encouragement from popular authors and from others who had previously won. There were forums by novel genre and by “birds of a feather” groups — age and interest groupings. There were also regional groups, which like the forums, were great for encouragement and let everyone know that they were not alone in the endeavor. The online forums seemed pretty well organized and lightly moderated. There were some “write-ins” organized by my regional group, but I didn’t attend them. People were friendly and provided support and encouragement.
Overall, participating in NaNoWriMo was a good experience. On the minus side, I had to focus a lot of my non-work time on writing, which meant that I fell behind in other areas, such as my personal technology projects and reading, and it was not until after the first few weeks in December before I stopped feeling “behind”. Also, I have notes for several writing projects and picked one more or less at random. I did not have an overall story arc and ending in mind for that one, which made it difficult in the middle of the month to keep momentum going. It is of course possible that during the intense creative focus that a plot will emerge, but I don’t feel that my ending was strong enough. Next time I will choose a story idea that I have thought through a bit more.
I was disciplined enough to win, yeah! In fact, I hit the target a bit early, the day before Thanksgiving. Winning was a big confidence boost to my inner writer. In order to get it done, I woke up an hour early each morning and also wrote a bit at lunch and again, for a longer stretch, after dinner. Though I was not happy with the ending, I did come up with a lot of ideas for the story that I did not have when I started out and I feel that the story has good potential. While it was a bit grueling, it was also fun and I would definitely do it again.
So, you don’t end up with a finished novel, but what you do have is a good chunk of a story that you can build on. During January and February NaNoWriMo organizes activities focused on editing, revisions, and other aspects of the writing craft. A big thanks to the organizers of NaNoWriMo and to the other participants for their positive attitudes and for sharing their journey.