I set out to commit to NANOWRIMO in November which meant a commitment of writing a minimum 50,000 word novel in a month. I ended up ‘winning’ which just meant I completed the task at hand. I recorded 50,061 words on November 30th. And I have so many thoughts about this experience that I wanted to share with you all. It sounds cheesy but it was honestly life changing in a number of ways. I also want to note that I promised excerpts and chapters of my novel in progress would be posted on my blog throughout the month but I only ended up posting Chapter 1. The reason being is it was so hard to just keep up with my daily word count. This on top of going back and editing pieces for posting just became too difficult. But that does not mean you won’t see more of my NANOWRIMO novel, ‘The B Team’ in the future.
But alas, here are some takeaways that will hopefully get you guys stoked (or not so stoked) to take part in this writing marathon next year.
1. Being disciplined is a learned skill, not just a personality trait – Some days felt like a piece of cake while others (particularly Fridays) felt like an epic battle of wills to get my word count in. I am proud to say I wrote every single day of November for over an hour. I remember on day one I banged through my writing at lunch and then the rest right after I got home from work and I thought, “wow, that wasn’t hard at all. This is going to be such a breeze.” Surprise, surprise, it was not a fucking breeze. Friday nights were always a struggle for me. I was exhausted from the work week and just wanted to relax in my bed or have some light social time. I ended up having to forgo a lot of social engagements on Fridays because I would write 20 words and then 200 but wait I still have 400. Aw fuck. Just 80 more. I don’t wannaaa. Ugh okay just 30. And then around 10 or 11 I’d finally be done. I had moments where I wanted to curse myself out for committing to doing something so time consuming for no obviously apparent reason. At one point, when I was being especially grumpy about having to write my sister said, “don’t worry about it, remember this is supposed to be fun!” To which grumpy ass me thought, “no, this is about forcing myself to be more disciplined”. Before Novemember I didn’t consider myself a very disciplined person. I would eat whatever I want, spend my time however I wanted (which involved a lot of TV binging) and I would rarely work out. But now I feel like I can call myself a disciplined person. And I am looking forward to applying this discipline to other facets of my life.
2. A health dose of pride can be a great motivator – When I announced on social media that I was doing NANOWRIMO, I remember people telling me, “good luck! I couldn’t do it. I only got to so many words, it’s super hard, blah blah blah.” Basically they were telling me “don’t feel bad if you can’t get it done”. And for people who have kids or more demanding jobs or significant others I can imagine not being able to get it done because of higher priorities, but I had no such excuses. So I thought to myself, “oh you don’t think I can do this? Watch me.” And that pridefullness, that sense of “I will show them all” really pushed me to be consistent and not push things off.
3. Don’t construct your own mountains to climb – I was determined to hit the suggested daily word count of 1,667 words/day because I knew if I didn’t, I would slowly be building a mountain that I would have to climb later on. I didn’t want to take the risk that I wouldn’t be able to overcome those self-made obstacles so I made sure that even on my busiest days, I got in a good chunk of word count. Some days I was a little over and some days (especially around the holidays) I was a little under. But I refused to procrastinate too much and I think that’s a huge reason I was able to succeed in getting it done.
4. You get to know your characters so much better when you visit them everyday – This was the first time I worked on a writing project every single day for an extended period of time. Because of this I really feel like I fell in love with my characters. My novel has some serious plot issues (I’m pretty sure I threw everything but the kitchen sink at this book – women that can see the future, human traffickers, familial drama, PTSD, and the underground tunnels of Portland). I’m not sure I want to keep the novel going as is but I feel like I have personalities in the book that I can revisit in the future. The women in ‘The B Team’ are almost like weird parts of me now that linger in my thoughts and I think that’s kind of amazing.
5. As you would expect, it was a very cathartic experience – One of my friends was teasing me that my main character (Alex, if you read chapter 1) is basically me. And yes, she is a fictionalized version of myself. And one of my chapters was a fictionalized version of a very emotionally painful experience for me. Getting to take that moment and dramatize it, to take myself out of it while giving it to someone else felt oddly freeing. It was hard to write parts of it but I really think it was one of the best chapters that I wrote. And to feel like I created something from this shitty time was a very powerful experience. I usually keep my fiction arm’s length from myself and my experiences but I think the most affecting fiction is birthed from the emotional reality of it’s auteur. So I think this sort of vulnerability is something that I hope to continue to work on as a writer.
6. There’s not that much celebration in creative endeavors – This one is a bit of a bummer. When I completed NANOWRIMO and won, I was ready for fucking fireworks to explode out of my monitor and a parade to bust into my bedroom. That obviously did not happen. In fact, I think the NANOWRIMO site that you use to track your progress even messed up and sent me a “so you didn’t win this year 😦 but that’s okay” email. I was like “wtf bitch I DID win.” And in the absence of being recognized by the program and despite the few ‘congrats’ of friends who knew what I was doing, there was very little recognition. Writing a book is not like exactly like running a marathon. There is not a group of people along the way to give you high fives and get you water and cheer you on when you hit the finish line. It’s a quiet success. And I guess I have to put my pride aside and be okay with that and just keep writing anyways.
6. The most important part – NANOWRIMO did exactly what I was hoping it would do for me and more. Writing for more than hour everyday for 30 days straight started to build a solid habit. I now feel like if I don’t write, that I’m failing some extension of myself, like if I didn’t use my left arm all day. There’s part of my brain now that says, “this just happened – get it on paper ASAP”. And “if you don’t write it now, you won’t ever write it”. This kind of invisibile presence of a habit is now something I carry with me and hope it continues to push me so I can get better at my craft and hopefully entertain some folks along the way.
Biggest advice to you all : Do NANOWRIMO next year and kick it’s ass.