It’s official! I am a THREE time winner of NaNoWriMo! (National Novel Writing Month)
That’s right, for the third year in a row I managed to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. This year has been the most difficult, for some reason, but I managed to squeak by the finish line in 27 days, with a lot of help from other writers that were as crazy as myself.
You’re insane! Why do that?
“Why would you ever do that?” You ask?
Because it’s awesome!
It’s not just about writing, but about setting an incredibly tough goal for yourself and then joining a community of other writers who attempt to reach that same goal, together. The connections that I have made every November through NaNoWriMo events have not only been a huge support and encouragement, but have been friendly and helpful even after NaNo has ended. At the end of NaNoWriMo this year I can say that I have forged new friendships, made some stronger, and walked away with a novel penned by me! How awesome is that?
“A novel in a month? That must be one crappy novel…”
Well… Yes, it is. But do you know what else it is? It’s 50,000 words of a novel ready to be refined and polished into an amazing story.
The fact that it is a crappy first draft has very little to do with the speed in which it was written, and a lot to do with the fact that all first drafts are crappy. Guaranteed.
The first book that I attempted to write took me over months of work, writing, rewriting, tweaking, planning, and more writing. After six months I had only managed to write 20,000 crappy words of a book. They still needed a lot of polishing and rewriting that I could never do because I never got to the end of that first draft. It’s only when you get to the end and see the full work, that you know exactly where the true story lies.
An analogy that has helped me along the way compares writing a book to working with a pottery wheel. The first step is not to add clay to the shape and keep shaping it as you go so that when you get to the top it’s a finished work. The first step is to put all of the clay on the wheel. Only then can you shape it and start working with it.
Writing is the same way. The first draft is just putting clay on the wheel. Only then can you see how much material you have to work with and what the general shape of it is going to be compared to the vision you had in your head. You need to get that first draft down first, then you can be the master craftsman who shapes it.
Don’t forget that, writers. Embrace that first draft as the crap it is so you can polish the story that lies within. Don’t feel bad and beat yourself up because you think it isn’t a masterpiece as soon as you type “The End.”
“Is it really winning if ‘everybody wins’?”
This is another argument I have heard against NaNoWriMo, but it can’t be further from the truth. Just because multiple people win doesn’t mean that win is any less difficult to achieve. Sticking with writing for 30 days is an extremely tough thing to do, especially when we all have school, work, and families, that all want our attention. Even without other obligations, it is hard to remain creative day after long day for thirty days straight.
Along the way many writers drop out. Last year in my region only 1 in 5 writers reached that goal. It is like running a marathon. Anybody who crosses the finish line is a winner. They may not have been first, but if that was the only purpose then as soon as first place won everyone else would just give up. Most marathon runners don’t do it to be first, they do it because it’s an incredible challenge that they want to win.
So yes, winning NaNoWriMo is incredibly hard and is not just a ‘participation award.’ It’s worth it, give it a shot!
Planning vs Pantsing
Each year I approached my NaNo novel differently. The first year I had only learned about NaNoWriMo days before it started; which meant I had absolutely no plan for the story beyond a vague idea. That was the ultimate attempt at pantsing my novel. (Pantsing, also called Discovery Writing, is when you write a novel without an outline or any detailed road map, which you might call writing “by the seat of your pants.”)
This year I tried to outline as best I could. I spent two months coming up with world building ideas and outlines for my story. I thought it would make the writing of my story a lot more rigid and less fun, but it actually worked out really well. I still had room to change the plan as I went, but I knew where I was going and what major events were going to happen along the way. Some of those changed, but the first draft definitely came out cleaner than in previous years when I pantsed my way through the month and came out with a weak ending.
I couldn’t have done it without…
Seriously, this challenge would not have been possible this year without the support of some very awesome people. On those many days when I was having difficulty wanting to write a single word, watching my best friend creep up past my word count lit a fire under my butt and made me write anyway. The fact that we both crossed the 50,000 word finish line within minutes of each other was awesome as well. That was probably my biggest help this year, so thank you, Lena.
I also would not have completed this challenge if it wasn’t for Ben, this region’s ML (organizer of events), and the rest of the ChatNano IRC chatroom. Amy, Ben, and Sara, your constant insistence on word wars really helped motivate me to write when I would have otherwise lost all of my time playing World of Warcraft.
And of course, Timmy and your love of (ignoring) raptor sightings was always great chatroom entertainment.
I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo takes a lot of time, a ton of effort, and a boat load of dedication to set aside life for 30 days and work on your dream, but it is worth it.
Oh yeah, did I mention that NaNoWriMo has stats?