Sometimes you just don’t know how much you can do until you set a ridiculous goal for yourself.
This year, I decided to participate in something I’d never heard of before: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The trick to this little contest is this, between November 1st and November 30th you write novel (hopefully) of at least 50,000 words. The better half was participating this year and, since I’d just been promoted and just finished up with some arduous immigration stuff, I apparently needed something else to stress over.
I did not expect to finish. I work a lot, and some of that work ends up getting brought home. I have a history of getting great ideas started and having those ideas die out when I begin dealing with the agonizing minutiae that most projects of mine tend to have. I also happen to enjoy time watching TV and movies just vegetating in front of the tube.
No one was more surprised than I was that I finished it.
Not only did I finish, but I finished 5 days early on November 25th! I really did have a good time, despite days where I just couldn’t find anything to write about and spent 1600-1700 words playing out conversations just to fill space. It’s horrendous, I’m sure. Fortunately for me the goal is not to produce a finished product, but a very, very rough draft. It doesn’t have to be good. Hell, judging by the hints, tips and tricks from past year participants, it doesn’t even have to really be a novel. Some people write poetry. In one of the of the many confidence building emails sent out by the staff, they describe portions of the novel where their characters read from the dictionary. The point is to put 50,000 words on paper in a month, period.
It wasn’t easy. The first 10,000 words aren’t too bad, but when you’re sitting down to write your 1,667 words a day and realize you have no idea where to start or what to say it’s pretty damn frustrating. I found 10,000-25,000 words to be the hardest part. I wanted to move ahead, but was scared I’d finish too soon and fall short of the 50k mark. I started stretching scenes and putting in what I considered filler. I kept hearing the other writers, some of whom had tried multiple times in the past, talk about the fact that it accelerates once you get to around 25k-30k. I was stunned how right they were. The last 25,000 seemed a lot more effortless. I was busy with the action and the ending of my story and before I realized it, 50,000 was only a couple days away.
It’s horrible, of course, and I realize that. Is there a publishable story there? Probably not. If there is, it needs to be heavy edited and probably expanded, I still think the ending just sort of happened. It really doesn’t matter much. I’d never been a writer. I tended to stick to more visual forms of communication. I surprised myself. I got up every day a little earlier and wrote about 600 words before leaving for work, would write more at lunch. If I couldn’t finish off the 1,667 words a day off during lunch, I’d come home and wrap it up. With one exception I hit or exceeded every day. I’m not bragging, I’m just amazed I did it.
Will I do it again? Probably, yes. It’s a lot harder than you think to bring a novel into being and it takes a profound amount of dedication. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ridiculously relieved when I made the finish line. Everyone should complete it once just to see how it feels. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience to pull off.
It’s not about winning or completing something marketable. It’s about writing. It’s not even about hitting the 50,000 words; the fact you take the time to write each day is far more important, even if it’s only 500 words. Write. Don’t make excuses, just write until you’re done and stop. Making the 50,000 is just the icing on the cake; it’s so delicious and moist, after all.
Next November, I hope to see you all and the 2010 NaNoWriMo! I will try again!