Every November, National Novel Writing Month tests the strength and endurance of many budding scribes. They throw down the gauntlet and enter the arena doe-eyed newbies. After 30 days they emerge as shellshocked, bitter, and crazed wordsmiths, wondering why they ever agreed to anything so mentally scarring and ludicrous.
NaNoWriMo, if you don’t know, is an on-line contest or writerly challenge where ambitious hopefuls and seasoned pros must write 50,000 words in 30 days. They log their progress on NaNoWriMo’s website daily, and chat with other NaNaWriMo participants or provide emotional support.
This year I won NaNoWriMo, finishing my 50,000 words on Nov. 22. I had written 50,007 words to be exact. My novel joins other successfully completed NaNoWriMo projects in Writerly Valhalla, feasting and fighting and fornicating with all the other novels that reached the 50,000-word zenith. As of today, Nov. 30, the final drop-dead deadline day, my mystery novel has amassed 52,485 words.The book is still unfinished, but it’s an ambitious start. Go me!
To all the writers, scribes, and wordsmiths cranking out their novels for NaNoWriMo, take a bow. You’re all winners, even if you didn’t finish. Go you!
How did I achieve this feat? Like everybody else who participates in NaNoWriMo and survives: Butt in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Head focused on writing. I kept myself disciplined by pledging to write 2,000 words every day. Despite the multitude of distractions, the desire to flee and play video games, I kept that pledge. It wasn’t easy. Many times I wanted to quit. I wanted to scream and throw things. But I didn’t. The word-baby needed birthing.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Now just a cotton-pickin’ minute here, sonny! Hold yer horses! How in tarnation did y’all scribble that much chicken scratch in a single gol’ danged day?” Even if you don’t sound like an 1840s prospector, I’ll tell you. I wrote in multiple sessions throughout the day. Usually one in the morning and a few in the afternoon. But I logged my progress and at the end of each day, I had written over 2,000 words.
I literally wrote every day for 22 days. I didn’t skip days, though taking breaks is allowed. Nobody will penalize you if you’re not up to writing and want to take a day off for a mental health break.
After I finished my 50,000 words, I took a break for a few days before resuming. Every writer needs a rest and those who don’t aren’t really humans but automatons sent back from the future to shame us mortal writers. I can’t prove this, but it’s a plausible theory so I’m rolling with it.
What did I spend nearly a month writing? It’s a mystery novel set in a New Jersey seaside resort in 1966. The protagonist is a reporter for a small town newspaper who must investigate a beauty queen’s murder for a story. While digging, he uncovers an insidious conspiracy that involves the town’s leaders. I’ve tentatively entitled it Sunshine Noir. It’s Fletch meets Deadline – U.S.A. meets The Wickerman. I tapped my own experiences as a journalist for a weekly newspaper, which worked surprisingly well.
I’m glad I participated in NaNoWriMo this year. Not everything in the draft is perfect, nor should it be. NaNoWriMo is useful for cranking out that shitty first draft you’ll be editing for the next year. NaNoWriMo taught me discipline. It made me realize that nothing will ever get written if you don’t actually sit down and write. This sounds so simple, yet it’s true. Before taking part in NaNoWriMo, my writing stagnated. Mired in a slump and facing unproductively and sluggishness, the words just weren’t coming. Some people call this writer’s block. I call it an annoying pain in the ass, and one that every writer faces. NaNoWriMo pulled me from this lethargic state. It gave me a goal, a reason for writing a mystery.
And so, this stalwart scribe drafted a plot and created a storyboard with each scene rendered on sticky notes and stuck to the wall. I researched and wrote more notes and drafted my character’s backgrounds. Then, on November 1, I sat at my computer and wrote out the first scene. And the day after that, I added more until a story began taking shape, one where reporter Harman Bass evolved, grew, and became something more than words on a page.
Writing is magic.
I don’t care what the eggheads or naysayers claim. Writers are word wizards who create worlds. These written words are read and transform into pictures in our heads and before you know it we’ve got a movie playing inside of us, one where fictitious characters become real, if only for an instant. Magic!
Thanks, NaNoWriMo, for giving me that shimmering spark of magic.