I never really announced this, but I am doing NaNoWriMo this year. If you aren’t familiar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which occurs annually in November. People all over the country attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel during November.
I think that I’ve hesitated to do NaNoWriMo before because it’s basically a gimmick. But it’s a gimmick that works. There is a long list of published books that have been written during NaNoWriMo, including well-known titles and authors like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
The premise behind NaNoWriMo is “just write, don’t revise.” You are not supposed to go back and read over what you wrote yesterday, or revise anything you’ve written so far. You are simply supposed to keep moving forward. There are a lot of encouragers built in to the process, including pep talks from published authors and local write-ins. Another thing that has helped me this year is that my friend Karla is doing it with me, so we are checking in with each other almost daily on our word counts.
After hitting some frustration with my non-fiction manuscript and feeling a little worn out on faith writing, I decided (at the suggestion of my husband) to go back to a young adult (YA) novel I started four years ago. It is about a fifteen year old Thai/American girl who, after living in the States for most of her life, moves with her family to Bangkok. She basically is caught between two countries, two cultures, two languages, and two religions. I have gotten it out every now and then and added to it, and I had 14,000 words. So I thought I would try NaNoWriMo and see if I could add another 50,000 words to the manuscript, which would put me pretty close to a full length novel.
I have very little experience writing fiction, and part of me wonders why I think I can write it. Of course, that little nagging self-doubt is always there. But I love to read novels, especially YA ones, and I know the novels I like best and the ones I disliked and why. As I write, I am trying not to consider craft too much, because I think that will stifle getting the first draft down on paper, but I am thinking about the YA books I’ve read that had the best characterization and plots. I’ve also thought a lot about my main character and who I want her to be. She is an oldest child, so there is a part of her that wants to please and wants to succeed, but there is also a side of her that is a little overwhelmed and insecure. For most of the book, she lets things happen to her and tries to make sense of everything going on around her, but it will not be until she confronts a difficult event in her past that she will actually begin to act and perpetuate events on her own.
Week one went really well, and I wrote roughly 1,000 words a day, plus I wrote a few thousand words last Sunday. The technique of not going back to revise works. I also have tried not to waste too much time doing research. Since I’m writing about modern day Bangkok, I have looked up a couple of things, and I also am thankful for a high school friend of mine who helped me out with some Buddhist practices. But basically if I thought of something I needed to fix or look up, I made a note of it and just kept writing. By the end of the week, I had about 10,000 words.
Week two, however, was pretty terrible. I have only written maybe 2500 words in the past week. My husband coaches basketball, and the season starts in November, so he has been home less lately. Last week our dishwasher went out, so I was hand washing dishes most nights on top of regular life (work, homework help, cooking, etc). Most nights I was just too tired to write. I tried getting up at 4 one morning like I used to and found that it was completely unproductive. Then on Friday I had to take my daughter to the ER after she injured her knee at school (don’t worry, she’s okay), so my plans to take several hours to write on Saturday morning while Steven took the kids with him to the grocery and Target dissipated. Instead I was in full Mom mode. I am certainly not upset about having to dote on my daughter, but my point is that life doesn’t stop for NaNoWriMo. And that’s okay.
The halfway point was yesterday, and I should have 25,000 words by now, but I only have 13,000. However, I think that’s a pretty good number for two weeks! It’s a lot better than my previous average when I was getting up to write early in the morning. I also think the fact that I’m writing fiction helps. I have a sort-of outline for my story. It’s more of a list of events that could happen in it, but it’s something to go on.
I will say that there were people who already had 50,000 words by the end of the first week. I realize that there are experienced Wrimos who do this every year, but I can’t help but wonder if they already had part of their stories written prior to November and just added that word count to their November word count. Is cheating allowed in NaNoWriMo? I don’t know. My friend also had about 15,000 words of her story written already, but we kind of decided that we were only going to count our words written in November. She is several thousand words ahead of me, although she’s not quite to 25,000 either. But a big part of me wants to cheat and add the 14,000 words I previously had. That would bring me up to where I need to be right now! I may do it before the end if I need more words. We’ll see.
Whether or not I make the word count, I am hoping to continue to write as much as possible in the next two weeks, and am hoping that I can use Thanksgiving weekend to catch up. My assessment of NaNoWriMo is that it IS effective, and that “just write, don’t revise” may be a good motto for me to use in the future. Of course, I’ll have to come back and revise later, but at least I will have a good chunk of material to work with before I get there.
To all the Wrimos out there: Here’s to you. Keep writing!