NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers across the globe shoot to get 50,000 words of a new novel down before 11:59pm, November 30th.
I first heard about it in 2015. That year I wrote the first draft of a middle-grade novel called Land of the Golden Raindrops. In 2017, I wrote the first draft of a YA novel His Brother’s Keeper. This year I took some old notes I’d written back in High School and decided I’d rework them into an adult fantasy novel.
I knew November would be busy, so I tried to plan ahead. I started my outline and made some character notes. I felt confident that I had a vision of where the story would go, at least, enough of one to be getting on with.
About a week in, I was stumped. The characters weren’t speaking to me, and even with all my old notes, I was beginning to realize that the story just had no point.
I spent a few days trying to digest what this meant. I recalled reading about bestselling authors who gave up on projects, things they’d started then realized just weren’t going anywhere. Or an early novel they’d tried desperately to publish, then put aside to write something new, only to discover it was their subsequent novels that people wanted to read.
I shrugged and said to myself, maybe this is just one of the projects I’m going to have to walk away from.
Since pregnancy, my writing time has been minimal. I decided to do NaNoWriMo 2018 because I thought it might help me work writing time back into my schedule. Now I was staring at a novel that I thought I needed to trash.
I didn’t want to quit. I wanted my 50,000 words.
I toyed with switching to another project, but I’d squeezed out a meandering 18k, and I was losing days. If I started over I might never finish.
I’d read before about the work part of writing. The “just get it on the page” days. I’d read a million quotes about how you can edit a crappy sentence but you can’t edit a blank page.
So, I sat myself down and turned my narrowed eyed stare into the heat of my glowing laptop screen. Get it on the page, I told myself. Just get something on the page.
I rambled for an hour. Asking myself questions about the setting and my characters and what the story was about. After two hours of writing, I had my first real scene. Not just a jumble of conversation or an explanation of setting, a whole scene with characters interacting and purpose and movement forward towards a potential plot.
The next night, I put the baby to bed, booted up my laptop, and did it again. Night after night I plugged away. I’d start by typing jibberish and end with full scenes. My characters woke up. My plot and story arch came into focus.
I realized what I was writing about.
I’ve heard some writers make fun of NaNoWriMo as a silly sort of exercise. That you could just be working on your novel at your own speed and don’t need to drop everything for a brand new project every November.
Personally, I love NaNoWriMo, because every time I do it, I find myself learning something new about writing. And even if this year’s novel does end up as an unused file on my hard drive, I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn from NaNoWriMo 2019.