I wrote a novel in thirty days last November. Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty days. How did I do it? The drive to write, determination, and encouragement – from family, friends, and the staff at nanowrimo.
Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, begins every year on November 1, when participants begin working toward the goal of completing a fifty-thousand-word novel by midnight on November 30. Anyone can participate, from novice to veteran writers. All you need to do is sign up, create your novel on the website, and, of course, write at least sixteen hundred and sixty-seven words a day.
So what motivated me to spend a month doing little else but write? First, I already had an idea for a novel in mind, and had been thinking about starting it, but kept telling myself I’d get to it later, maybe next year. In September, two months before the kick-off of nanowrimo, my stepdaughter said, “Melissa, do it; you can do it.” Her enthusiasm was contagious. Why not? I thought – after spending the spring and summer revising my memoir, I had put it aside, with plans to read through and revise it, yet again, starting in December. So, what better time than November, when darkness presses down on the light, to push back against the sluggish side-effect of winter’s gloom, and write the first draft of my novel?
How did I begin? I began before the beginning – a lot of research, an outline, a diagram of the novel’s arc, flashcards jotted with brief descriptions of each chapter, character sketches – physical descriptors and clothing styles, family and work history, hobbies, dreams, favorite foods, habits, living situations, and strengths and weaknesses. I assigned each character a name that conjured his or her unique temperament, and downloaded from the Internet images that matched each character’s personality. I created living, breathing, heart-beating human beings, and listened to the nuances of each of their voices in my head. I moved into their lives, their minds, their every thought. I did all of this before typing word one.
Though I started preparing two months in advance of the kick-off of nanowrimo, and felt confident about the trajectory of my story, when I finally sat my butt in the chair to type the first sentence, the uninvited judge living in my head spoke mightily. And there were days when my brain churned on sloth speed and I struggled to reach the minimum daily goal of sixteen hundred and sixty-seven words. But I countered the judge’s arguments, re-filled my brain’s glucose tank with fun snacks (mostly dark chocolate), and gave myself pep talks: “Keep typing, keep writing, keep the characters alive and breathing.” Of course, there’s something to be said for seeing progress, in numbers. That’s partly how nanowrimo kept me going: Each day I downloaded what I had written on the website and, voilà, the link calculated exactly how many words I had written, how many words I had left to write, and my average word count per day. More than the word count, the unraveling of the story sustained me. By November 28, I had fifty thousand words. I was ahead of schedule! On November 30, I typed my last sentence. Total word count: fifty-three thousand nine hundred fifty-nine words.
Though it’s only January, and November is three seasons in the future, if you’re thinking about writing a novel, and want to sign up for nanowrimo next year, it’s not too soon to start thinking about your story now: plot, arc, theme, characters. Though some people may have the brainpower and creative heft to dive into nanowrimo without a life jacket, I vote for having one nearby, whether it’s an outline, a diagram, or both. And getting your work onto the page will boost your confidence, deliver a lasting high, encourage you to say, “Yes, I can do it!”
Writing paraphernalia and conditions I recommend: Note cards, corkboard, your favorite pen, pencils, notebook, sticky notes, drawing paper, a quiet space, quotes from writers that inspire you, your favorite chocolates or other snacks, plenty of water, tea/coffee, comfy clothing, and a happy light for those who live in locations like Vermont, where the sun goes on sabbatical starting in November.