2021 NaNoWriMo has ended. So, how did National Novel Writing Month start? From wikiwrimo:
The first year
“NaNoWriMo was founded by Chris Baty in July 1999. Twenty other people participated that year, all from the San Francisco Bay Area. The project began not because Baty and his friends had ideas for the great American novel but because they “wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands”. After grabbing the shortest novel on his shelf (which happened to be Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World) and doing a rough word count, the number that Wrimos today strive for was set in stone. Six of the twenty-one participants, including Baty, completed the challenge. After 1999, NaNoWriMo was moved from July to November to take advantage of the miserable weather.”
That’s how it began but, oh my, has it ballooned since then. Tens of thousands now participate each year, pushing to reach their goal, getting new words down. Some go on to “win” by reaching the 50k words written in 30 days, others may not reach that, but they finish books, edit books, get the motivation to start that book they’ve been putting off for months, even years.
In our own way, we all won, and for me that’s the best part. Reading all the updates throughout the month was inspiring, seeing the joy in new words from people who hadn’t written in a long time made me tear up. I’m fortunate that I can write full time; there was a time that I couldn’t do it because the work I did was too physically demanding for me to try. It wasn’t until I was older and able to retire early that I had the time to devote to this challenging, exasperating, thrilling endeavor.
For my NaNo, I hoped to get the first 50k words of the next book in my series. I projected it to be a 500-page book by the time it was published, and I still believe that it will be. What I didn’t expect was to finish 50k words in 8 days. So I set a new goal: get to 100k by the end of November. I reached that goal on the 18th. So I took a deep breath and set my last goal: finish the entire first draft by the 30th.
As of 2 p.m. on the 30th, I had written 160k words and reached The End. I was elated, sure, but by that point I felt like an amorphous blob floating in the Void. The next day, I wasn’t much better, but that’s kind of the point with this event. Write your fool head off for 30 days, no editing, no doubting, no distractions (except I did do extra words the days before Thanksgiving so I could one day off). It’s about dedicating time to do what you love, focusing on the words and the story, celebrating the journey of writing.
Being an author can be a difficult, lonely path. By doing an event like NaNoWriMo, you’re giving yourself permission to follow your heart.
So, how did I write so many words? Some of it was getting up really early and keeping at it until I reached my word count goal for that day. Some of it was letting myself fall into the world and stay there. The last was the clincher for me: a detailed outline.
I know, many of you write by the seat of your pants. Structure, outlines, scenes, they give you the heebie-jeebies and stifle your creative flow. I get it, I do. Many of you already work from an outline that details even the minutiae of every moment. I tried pantsing NaNo the first time I did it in 2018, and though I wrote 104k words that year, the book was a mess. So bad in fact that I had to completely rewrite it before I could publish the story.
In 2020, I had an outline, the bones of the plot with no detail. I found myself having to write down what I had written that day in a list of POVs, so I could see which characters needed to come next. That worked well and I finished the book, which was my goal, but the lack of prep slowed me down. One thing big benefit to not winging it was I didn’t have a rewrite with this book. Editing, sure, but the basic story was solid.
This year I decided to up my outline game. I created a file, listed all the chapters, the added the plot bones: opening, inciting incident, turning point 1, midpoint (aka turning point 2), turning point 3, the black moment, and the realization. I also had those same bones for my main secondary character and the villain.
By weaving all the basic parts of the story for the protagonist, antagonist, secondary character and villain into the outline, that told me where the subplots could fit in and make sure the pacing was good. From there, I fleshed out each chapter with detail about each scene (ranging from 2-3 scenes per chapter).
When I was done, I had a complete overview of the plot yet still had room to let my story freak flag fly to fulfill my need to let things happen. And they did to the tune of 2 twists that I had no idea would happen. Characters, heh…
Would this work for you? I don’t know, but it did for me. I also learned that I could write 5k words a day and not make myself crazy. It’s possible, which means I have no excuses. Yes, life happens, and you can’t spend every moment of every day in your chair, at your computer. But you can set yourself up for success whether by turning off your internal editor and going for it, or creating a detailed outline, or signing up for NaNoWriMo next year and letting the words flow out of you.
However you can get the words on paper, do it. Don’t let anything stop you from doing what you love, what takes your breath away. Forget Calgon, let your passion take you away.
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Tell me all about it!
May your words flow freely,
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