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  • Writer's pictureJenny Waldo

WW: NaNoWriMo

Do you NaNoWriMo?  And what exactly is NaNoWriMo?

In 2008 (OMG!) I took part in the National Novel Writing Month “competition” where anyone who signs up is challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days, from the first minute of November 1st to the last minute of November 30th.  I stopped at Day 18 with 85,000 words.

This November, I plan to do it again!

Here are the rules:

  1. Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.

  2. Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).

  3. Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!

  4. Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.

  5. Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

  6. Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

I don’t remember why November was picked as the “National Novel Writing Month” but after 1999, NaNoWriMo’s first year, when 21 people participated through the month of July and 6 people reached 50,000 words, November became the month of choice.  In 2011, there were 256,618 participants and 36,843 winners!

You can do it by yourself, you can do it in groups, you can write at dawn, midnight, or in my case when the kids are in school!  The goal is to reach 50,000 words, which is about the length of The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve only done it once and I was TERRIFIED!  I had written, a lot, before.  I had had training in my graduate film courses on screenwriting.  I was a god-damn English major who loved reading books and writing analytical papers in college.  But did I feel like I could write a book?  Hell to the no.  So I prepped during October.  You’re not supposed to do any of the actual writing until November 1st, but you can do “pre-writing” like outlines, character descriptions…etc.  So that’s what I did.  I started with character descriptions.  I charted out plot points.  I had an idea in my head of what I wanted it to be: what if you found your soulmate and he was a murderer???  I wanted to do YA fiction that was REAL and GRITTY and HONEST and TRUE!  I wanted to show the ANGST of teenage life, the disillusionment in adults, the betrayal by those who claim to love you…I clearly haven’t gotten over high school.

I also needed to jump start my creativity and having a deadline, even as arbitrary as November 30th, was what I needed.  I was burnt out on doing a series of educational videos where I was a one-man crew.  I had done 10 in 9 months, all with a newborn at home and I was fried.  My baby had just started school and I was kid free for a few glorious hours in the day and I needed to find myself again.  Writing has always been my way of doing that.

So November 1st came around.  I dropped my kids off at school and came home to my prepared desk with my outline and character bios, my notecards of scenes, and I started writing.  By the end of Day 1, I’d written 5,865 words.  I couldn’t believe it.  It poured out of me.  And the pace didn’t let up in the days that followed.  I had over 85,000 words by Day 18 when I was done with the story I wanted to write.  I was ecstatic, I was proud, I was happy.

I was also a bit delirious.  I sent it to my friends for critical feedback and got encouraging pats on the backs.  I honestly thought that my novel was pretty perfect as it was and immediately fired it off to every agent I could find on the internet.   And here we are, 5 years later, and I’m still working on it.  I’ve learned a lot!  And there’s still more to learn.  It’s kind of embarrassing how many rookie mistakes I made.  I somehow thought that the rule of “show don’t tell” ingrained in film school didn’t apply to novels.  Haha!  Each draft gets better and closer.  And I now know not to approach people until you are damn sure and not high on personal achievement.

I’m transitioning in my “day job” right now and re-focusing on my writing after a couple of years “off” due to personal upheaval and I thought “It’s time to do NaNoWriMo.”

So come November 1st, I’ll start.  I’ve had the idea I want to write about in my head since 2003.  It’s a character and a world, and it’s much bigger than my first NaNoWriMo attempt which was set in my hometown of Washington, DC in my old high school.  This new idea is sci-fi, set in the future, but I want it to be a realistic future.  I want to project what the world will be like without oil.

For the purposes of writing a draft in 30 days, I need to focus on the story.  I can always research and rework the background and such.  But even for the story, I want to immerse myself in this new world.  I’ve been collecting articles about the energy crisis over the years, so I have a lot of reading to do before I start writing.  I want to get a sense of the world before I figure out the figures that move through it.

So who’s going to join me?!

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