Friday, November 01, 2019
Woman typing on a laptop

Today it begins!

What’s that you ask? Well, other than the start of the month of November, it is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo by those who participate. All over the world, thousands of novelists will be attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I’m going to be one of them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done NaNoWriMo. In fact, the first three books of my African Violet Club mystery series started out as NaNo novels. But long before that, in 2004, I did my first NaNoWriMo. For three years, I’d been trying to complete my first novel. Like most new novelists, I was struggling. I’d get so far and then stall out. I didn’t know what to write. My story sucked. I was lost and frustrated and depressed.

Then I heard of this insane (to me) event where a bunch of people committed to writing a novel in a single month. It didn’t have to be a good novel. It just had to be done. You couldn’t write a single word until November 1st, and with any luck, you’d type your fifty-thousandth word on November 30th. Ideally that would be the word “End,” and the word before it would be “The.”

Something incredible happens when your focus is on writing 1667 words every day for thirty days. You don’t have time to worry about whether they’re good words or the right words or, sometimes, whether they make any sense. You have to put your internal editor on vacation. For a perfectionist like me, that’s tough to do. But it was the secret to actually getting to “The End” for me. That first year, I wrote a 50,690 word novel called “A Pearl of Great Price.” It was a mystery, of course.

There are all kinds of tricks to accomplish this. One is going to group write-ins. Local Nano’ers will meet at a specified time and place and work on their novels together for a few hours. The Municipal Liaisons bring swag, little things associated with writing or just for fun. Often there will be writing sprints, where everyone has to type as many words they can in 15 minutes (or some other arbitrary amount of time). At the end, you compare notes.

There are plot bunnies, something everyone tries to include in their story in the next writing sprint. Various people might throw these ideas out. Most of the time, they’ll have nothing to do with the novel you’re writing. But that’s what makes it fun. If you’re writing a cowboy romance and the plot bunny is a medieval knight, you have to come up with a way to include it. Usually, it doesn’t make sense. But your imagination, under pressure, sometimes comes up with something incredible, something that takes your novel in a direction you never thought about.

I first finished a novel on November 30th of that year. I still have it on my hard drive. It’s not something I’d publish. Not in its current form anyway. Some day I’ll have to read through it and see if there’s anything worth salvaging. But that hardly matters. What I learned was not only that I could finish a novel, but how to do it. It’s no big secret. You put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard, and don’t stop (except for breaks every once in a while) until you hit your word count goal for the day. As Nora Roberts says, you can’t edit a blank page.

I rarely do write-ins now. I don’t use plot bunnies to increase my word count. But, if I’m close to starting a new novel toward the end of the year, I’ll usually join NaNo to encourage me to work on it every day. This is one of those years. Let the typing begin!

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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