By Jacqueline Luckett
For years I’d heard about a group of writers who each completed an entire novel in thirty days. The idea seemed magical. I wanted to know those writers. Was there a place they gathered? If I scoured local coffee shops, would I find them madly pecking away at their laptops, surrounded by stale pastries and triple lattes ? Were these writers geniuses, cult-members, or crazies?
Then, one day, a fellow writer mentioned NaNoWriMo, the nationwide challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. She loved it! She’d won—twice!
Scary, was the first word that popped into my mind.
Then Sharisse, my competitive alter-ego, raised her lovely head. You can beat your friend, she goaded. You can write more than 50,000 words! You could win NaNoWriMo! Her timing was perfect.
Last year, I had an idea for my third novel that just wouldn’t take form. I knew the characters, the story, and a few plot twists. Yet, I couldn’t commit the story to paper (or computer). NaNoWriMo! 30 days of writing—piece of cake. 1,666.67 words per day—easy. Little did I know.
I made a chart:
Column 1 DATES, November 1-30
Column 2 CUMULATIVE WORD COUNT goal (added 1,666.67 to each day)
Column 3 (like any good to-do list) COMPLETED a checkmark or a gold star to mark my progress.
The Distraction Devil dropped by. Like an unexpected, amusing in-law, he stayed for 29 days. I recalculated word counts, switched charts from Word to Excel and back again. I searched the NaNoWriMo site for interesting trivia, read updates from writers I didn't know. I surveyed the countries, states, cities where people were writing at the same time, with the same goal. I looked for meet-up groups (there were a lot of them). I considered NaNoWriMo in Paris and researched flights.
I finished. That is to say, I had a document with a 50,000 word count.
I’d love to tell you that the chart motivated me, that my characters took over and wrote their story, that the words flowed like Beverly Hillbillies’ crude oil. I’d like to report that I ended the month with the framework of a ragged, but promising, first draft. Sadly, it didn't happen.
I found the pressure overwhelming, and I’m a writer who loves the thrill of rushing to meet a deadline. Yes, I finished. I got the poster, the decal, and the congratulatory email. It just didn't work. I hated nearly every chapter, paragraph, and sentence I wrote.
I don’t plan (notice I didn't say “will never”) to participate in NaNoWriMo again. Yet, I don't feel I wasted my time. I don't regret those thirty days because the process forced me to produce. I’m still not sure why the writing was so hard for me, but I learned a few lessons in the month-long write-fest. Hopefully, they’ll help you, on this day thirteen, as you move forward.
1. Plan your work and work your plan. It doesn’t have to be formal—stay loose (that’s where the creativity happens). I’m not suggesting that you outline, especially if that’s not your process. Having a notes on where your story is going and what your characters want will keep you focused and writing.
2. Don’t get behind. Stick as close to your daily goal as possible. It’s hard to make up those missed words, especially if the ideas and words aren’t flowing. If you get behind, enjoy the mad dash.
3. Gag your internal editor. Don’t worry if the grammar is incorrect, or the sentence isn't as magical as you want it to be, or that your story has taken an unexpected. Tell that I.E., "MYOB," and let the words roll.
4. Keep on keeping on. Something good will come from these thirty days. It might be a fabulous sentence or two, a fascinating character, or a great title. You may learn something new about your writing, your story, how you operate under pressure or what it takes to finish.
Now . . . go back to writing! Only 28,333.33 words left.