NaNoWriMo made me a god for 30 days

by Joanne McAlpine

Joanne blog_1223I built worlds, destroyed lives, and created heroes. NaNoWriMo made me a god for 30 days. Actually, I finished in 29 days and took a day of rest on the 30th.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (pronounced na-no-rye-mo), ended two weeks ago, and I am just now getting over the loss. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a personal challenge to write a novel draft of 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. That’s 1,667 words a day. I heard somewhere that 350,000 people around the world participated this year.

It was my first year, and I was determined. Slow and steady, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I woke up wondering how I was going to get through my 1,667 words each day. Do I have enough material to write? How is she going to escape? Why won’t she pay attention to this guy who likes her? This other guy is not doing anything in the story; should I kill him off or maybe write him out? I can’t write him out, it’s NaNoWriMo — I need all the words I can get.

Then later in the day, as I wrote I couldn’t stop thinking: Bleh, I hate the names of my characters, but I don’t have time to change them now. Was that the umpteenth time I used the word “looked”? Ugh, I don’t have time to think of a better word now. Oh no, I used another adverb; writers of the world will break my pencil. Sigh, no time to fix, gotta get my words in.

In the car, I’d start outlining how the next few scenes would go so that I’d have something to write when I sat down. I didn’t want to waste a minute, so my life became submersed in my fictional world.

At the end of the month, when I validated my 50,012 words on the NaNoWriMo website, a video popped up. Oh cool, I thought, what’s this? I clicked “play,” and people clapped and cheered, “Yaaaaaaaaaay, you did it,” over and over. And I started crying.

Before I left my office, I freshened myself up because if I saw my family with bloodshot eyes and red nose, they’d wonder about my sanity. It’s hard to explain this challenge to non-Nanites. Other people just know to leave me alone when I’m at the computer with my headphones on.

In the end, I’d do it again. Here are some highlights from my NaNoWriMo experience.

What I learned:

  • Kill the inner editor. That’s what other Nanites kept telling me. It’s about getting the words down on paper. Don’t worry about how awful it sounds. If you decide to go another route, don’t delete what you wrote, just rewrite it on the very next line. You can go back and fix it later.
  • Write-ins are awesome. NaNoWriMo offers you a way to meet up with local Nanites in your neighborhood. At first, I was skeptical that writing with a group of people would have any effect on my productivity. What I found is that being in a group of people who are all rooting for one another did inspire me to write. And when you are the only person in the room not writing, it’s peer pressure to get your game on. Along the way, I’ve met so many great people, and some of them I’ve kept in contact with after NaNo.
  • Need ideas? Check the dares. The NaNoWriMo website has what it calls dares, which I learned about from my write-ins. They give you something to get you writing. One I used was to put the weather playing in the background of one of my scenes. Another was to write 26 paragraphs, each one starting with a subsequent letter of the alphabet.
  • Email your writing buddies. I connected with some of the people I met at the write-ins via the NaNoWriMo website. Sporadically, I would send an email commenting on their progress and giving a word of encouragement. They would do the same for me. It really helps to feel connected during those 30 days.

Challenges I faced:

  • Not enough material. By week three, I felt I had reached the end of the story and was not going to make it to 50,000 words. I needed a twist. I added one, though I still need to make changes to fit it into the bigger story.
  • Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I really wanted to be ahead by Thanksgiving, but wanting and doing are two different things. And Black Friday was a busier day for me than I had expected, so getting my 1,667 words in was a struggle. Next year, I think I will set a goal of 2,000 words a day until Thanksgiving day.

The NaNoWriMo aftermath — where to go from here:

  • Edit. I am meeting up with two of the people I found through NaNoWriMo, and we are going to have sessions where we will spend our time editing our drafts. Because we won NaNoWriMo, we get two free proof copies of our books from Amazon. So we set a date a month before the coupon expires of to finish our books and purchase a proof copy. I’m hoping that deadline will hold us accountable for the work ahead.
  • Critique. I also found a critiquing group through NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping this group will help me with my edits.
  • Beyond. I enjoyed writing my book and still think about my characters. I’d like to visit them and will do that after the holidays. Once the dust settles, I’ll put the book down, walk away for a couple of weeks then come back and read it again to see if there is a story there. Then perhaps I’ll give it to a couple of beta readers before having it edited any more or sending it off for publishing.

Joanne McAlpine is director of social media marketing at Possibilities Publishing Company. She has a master’s degree in instructional systems design from the University of Central Florida and has been a social media consultant for more than four years.

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