I have a special treat for you today! My good friend Rion, who is an awesome writer and an even more awesome person, has written a wonderfully enlightening post for us about the reality of NaNoWriMo. Don’t forget to follow her!
The questions I get any time I wear one of my NaNoWriMo Winner t-shirts out and about are absolutely priceless.
“Thirty days, fifty thousand words, no excuses. Huh. What’s that mean?”
“That…what’s your shirt about now?”
I always smile, and try and find the simplest way of phrasing it, but in the end, that’s not the phrase I can say. It doesn’t summarize enough for them to understand.
Because in short, NaNoWriMo is the thing that changed my life.
I have tried to do the National Novel Writing Month challenge every year since 2006. I’ve succeeded in writing fifty thousand words in the thirty days every year since 2008. I’ve been a Municipal Liaison – a regional coordinator of sorts – since last November. And this year, I’m trying to spearhead a cross-regional Wrimo endeavor that will bring together the region I love and the region I live in.
Denise asked me to take a different tack on this event; you can find a thousand articles about “how to win your challenge” or “tips for surviving November” and other things on that line…but not as many are willing (or at least that I’ve seen are) to talk about what to actually expect during November, aside from writing your fingers off. So here’s my take, on what I think it’s like to be a Wrimo, and how the community at large probably helped save my life.
We start with my story.
Right at the beginning of my freshman year, a girl I was rooming next to asked me if I knew about NaNoWriMo. She knew I was a writer, and wondered if I’d ever done the challenge. I hadn’t even heard about it, but was more than willing to jump in, even on the second day of November.
The problem was, I burnt out too fast, and outside of Lexie, I didn’t know anyone else doing it. I got about six thousand words in, and gave up.
Next year, I wasn’t going to fall down. I was a writer and I didn’t need anyone to kick me in the teeth to write. I could do this. I had an idea, and I was going to run for it. …I fell. This time, I’d gotten about nine thousand words in, but I still couldn’t keep up the pace. The benefit, if there is one, was that I now had two books in similar veins that if I ever finished them, could work nicely together.
By 2008, I was disheartened. I wanted to do this, and I’d been looking forward to doing this. I enjoyed writing. I’d liked doing it the year before, prior to my catastrophic failure. So I decided that I’d do it again. I made the decision two days before November started and I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to write. But as I sat in the student union at my college and wondered, I caught the whiff of wood smoke – and decided that I was going to write about that. I was going to have a main character who smelled like wood smoke all the time. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I had someone.
The last two novels had been about angels, and this one was no different – Kennet, a name derived from “born of flame”, was a guardian angel who had been banished from heaven…and he didn’t know why. I took off like a bolt out of the blue. But this year, I went searching. I hadn’t done much on the website that the Office of Letters and Light, NaNo’s parent company, offered to participants. I realized that there was an old school IRC chat room that one could join, and so I tried that.
Finding the chat room was a lifesaver. It was filled with people that were just like me – struggling through the challenge and trying to make word count. People who didn’t know how they were going to get from plot point A to plot point Z, but they were going to keep trying all month long. They would get ahead of me, and I would want to catch up to them – and they the same for me. It was wonderfully inspiring, and if I got stuck, I knew I could ask them anything and I’d get as many answers as I could dream up.
For the first time, I got to the end of the challenge before the end of the month. I hadn’t finished the book, but I’d finished the challenge. I had written fifty thousand words in a month. I was thrilled.
Within the next month, I started to show major signs of depression with my school work. I was getting bogged down with technical things that should have been enjoyable and weren’t, I was frustrated with my department, and I was continuing to not grow in the ways that I’d hoped I would. I broke down in tears to my mother over Christmas vacation, saying that I didn’t want to go back to school. I didn’t want to student direct the play, I didn’t want to deal with the tech assignment I’d been given, I didn’t know how to balance that with the play I needed to direct for my class… All I knew was that I wasn’t happy anymore, and the last time that I’d been happy was in November, writing.
My mother suggested the one thing that I’d sworn I’d never do.
“Maybe it’s time to change your major.”
I’d always said I’d be a theatre major. I’d never imagined being anything else. But she was right – I wasn’t happy in the theatre anymore. I didn’t have 30 hours a day to dedicate to the task, like I needed to. So I changed my major. I switched to the incredibly vague Writing Studies degree Niagara had, and I forged my own path.
In 2009 I had it all figured out. This time, I wasn’t taking November lying down. I arranged for a group to get formed on campus, and we’d all do it together. I rounded up about ten of my friends and we started in October with brainstorming and met all the way through. Several had trouble with the word count – but I didn’t let them fall. I urged them to keep writing, even when there was no chance of them getting to 50K. It didn’t matter; it was the journey. By the end, several had an amazing month, and two of us won. That was a victory to me.
In addition to this, 2009 was the year I finally kicked my father into action. Dad had been writing for ages, and never really finished a project. I’d been telling him to do NaNo with me since the beginning, and that was the year I finally broke through. We took the same basic topic – vampires – and went opposite routes with them. I sent him emails, I urged him all month, I tried my best to write with him. And when December rolled around, my family was 2 for 2 on winners. I was so proud, I couldn’t speak.
I graduated in 2010, so by November I was thoroughly ensconced in my first post-school job, and was trying to figure out my life. But I’d had so much fun with the group in school, I wanted to take it to the next level. This time, my dad and I were going to take the bull by the horns, and we started a writing group in our hometown. I got interviewed by the local paper, we got a consistent core of about ten to twelve people who met with us, and everything was going swimmingly.
At the end of October, my father had a stroke.
I was devastated. I remember how my brain had to attempt to deal with this – taking something that could viably steal my father away from me, and all I could think was, “He can’t die – he has to finish his book.” I couldn’t imagine doing NaNo that year without him. That was my coping mechanism. He needed to survive this…because he still had writing to do.
My father proved exceptionally lucky. He never lost consciousness during the stroke. He called the ambulance himself, and my mother and I met him at the hospital before he got transferred to a specialist in the next major city over. Novels were entirely gone from my mind. All that mattered…was getting my father back to his. And we did. Due to the quick thinking on my dad’s part, and despite the incredibly rare and extreme variant of stroke he had…he was back home in under a week, with no deficits. Aside from one small incident the night before Hallowe’en, he was home and fine. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Needless to say, I was the only one who wrote a book that year. Dad and I still did the meetings, as much as he could, but I made the battle alone. That was fine – I can never fault my father for that.
2011 was a quieter year. I did the challenge and took a story a friend of mine and I had written aloud with each other for years, and began the novelization. I only got a fraction of the way through, but I hit fifty thousand and will be more than happy to do that again, once it’s gone through all the necessary edits. I started talking to members of my region, trying to determine if there was anything I could join up with outside of the chat room I’d hidden in each year. Around this time, I found the ML of the next region over, a girl by the name of JessAnn, and I tried to figure out why my county had been kicked out of her region, as it were.
Neither JessAnn and I had a good answer. She was more than willing to count my area as part of her region, but I wasn’t content. There was a region for “elsewhere”, for the rest of New York that didn’t quite fit in, but they didn’t have a strong presence that I could see, and most of them were out in the mountains.
So when ML applications came up, and I saw that New York::Elsewhere was looking for an ML, I started very seriously considering it.
I actually delayed a bit too long, and ended up sending in my application a few days late. I prayed for clemency, and hoped that it was a less-desirable enough region that I’d still get the position. And in a few months, my dream came true. I was announced as the official 2012 Municipal Liaison for New York::Elsewhere. I was in charge of corralling the troops in my area, and leading the whole of New York that didn’t have anywhere else to call home, to the 50K victory line.
I was thrilled and terrified. But I did what I’d done with Jamestown Writes – I took the bull by the horns, and did what I do best. I wrote to them.
I managed to gather a small online presence of authors, and held Skype write-ins, an overnight stint in tandem with the Night of Writing Dangerously, a Race to the Finish at the end of the month… I wrote emails, I did forum posts, I met up with people in my area and wrote in the cafe at Wegmans… I did everything that I could think of. And again, myself and a small number of my writers all found our way to 50K.
Now it’s 2013. It’s a bit staggering to realize that I’ve spent eight years in this program, writing novels that some I’ve finished, others I’m planning on finishing – at least one more that I’m using as my manuscript for my MFA in Creative Writing. Most of who I am as a writer, and how I view the writing process, came from either doing or thinking about NaNoWriMo. I’m the ML for my region again, and I’m gearing up for a bigger and better November this year. I’m in a new region geographically, and I have a thousand new options. I’m thrilled – and I’m hoping that I can reach exponentially more people this way.
So when I think about what you should expect in November, here’s what comes to mind.
You’re going to write until your hands fall off, and then the words will keep coming. There is no such thing as block in November – not because you don’t get stuck, but because even in the roughest days, you will find something to write about.
It will be amazingly easy for the first week – and the second week will be hell. It always is. This is the week when your book turns into the project that wouldn’t die, no matter how many times you delete the file or light your computer on fire. This is normal – and means you’re doing it right.
If you write an entire fifty-thousand-word novel in the month, on December 1st, your shining manuscript of glory will turn back into a pumpkin and you will wonder why you ever put a word on a page. This is also normal, and means you’re doing it right. (There’s a reason they call December and January our National Revision Months.)
You will begin to subsist on ramen noodles and Red Bull. Dishes will pile up in the sink; everything else you had on your agenda will be pushed aside; family members will think you’ve expired. You may want to warn them about this in advance.
You may obsess over your book at work, or other places that you can’t write during. You might run plot points by complete strangers, just because they were closest at the time that you thought of it. You will ask family members to name side characters and ask your significant others what they would do if you did this one kinda random thing in your relationship, not that you really would, but it’s for this book, you see…
You will be tired, and cranky, and burned out, and wonder why in the world you ever wanted to do this by the end of November.
But you will have a community – be it your region on the website, or the local writing group, or just that one girl on Twitter who runs writing sprints in the evening – and they will cheer you on every step of the way. We’re not hard to find; the new layout of the NaNo website makes it even easier to find your region. Go on there. Click your region’s forums. Find your ML. If your ML doesn’t respond, message the Elsewhere ML for your state. If you really aren’t sure about this whole thing and just want someone you know has been through the rodeo absolutely, go find me. I’m KissofJudas, the NY::Elsewhere ML, and I will always respond and you can be in my region. I have a thread just for you. Hand in hand with even just one person to spur you along, you can find the finish line.
And when – and I will always say when – you reach your goal of fifty thousand bright and shining words, and you plug that into the validator on the website, and you see that word count bar turn purple at the top of your page…
…you will know vindication and glory like nothing else this world has to offer.