On November 1st, I was challenged to get involved in NaNoWriMo. I had never heard of such a thing. After a quick Google search I realized I was too late to be involved in NaNoWriMo this year, and that was that.
Except it wasn’t.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term – and I certainly was not 17 days ago – I’ll explain. NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month,” which is November. The premise of it is to encourage participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, as a way to get the creative juices flowing. It is designed ostensibly to aid the procrastination-inclined writer such as I. The movement began in 1999 and today has over 200,000 participants worldwide.
I am now one.
Thanks to the encouragement of my peers, I decided to give it a whirl, 3 days after I was introduced to the idea. In other words, I started several days behind, without a concept or outline to my name.
So, to expedite the process, I reached back into the archives of my mind and began to write a novel I had outlined back in 1993. This novel, never writ, became the basis of a superhero RPG campaign I started instead. That campaign is still active today, and nearing its 600th serial episode. Mrs C loves it.
When I started writing this novel, I quickly learned what I had done wrong the previous 437 times I tried to write a novel. Namely, I was trying to correct it as I go. Inconsistencies, bad grammar, half-witted thoughts, they would all be written out at the end of each session, or the beginning of the next. Consequently, I never made it past the 3000-word level of any previous attempt.
Shame on me.
So, the first thing I learned was not to fix my novel as I go. Write the novel. Fix it later.
In NaNoWriMo, you have no choice. You have a deadline. You have to complete the first draft in 30 days, or, in my case, in 27.
Luckily, the first 50 pages (approximately 15,000 words) pretty much wrote themselves. It helped that I knew these characters, and knew what I will call the “unleashing” part of the novel, almost by heart. Details changed, of course, but the premise stayed the same. The characters were a joy to rediscover.
After that, for a bit, I struggled. I struggled to transition from the introductory section of the novel to the discovery section of the novel; when the main characters began to learn what they had become. Filling in the blanks of a novel is not like filling in the blanks of a game. You have to write your way through it. I did.
I am currently 27,000 words into the novel, and well into the discovery phase. At this point, the story has begun to write itself again and it is not frustration in the morning that stops my writing, but the clock. I have to go to work. I have to pay my bills.
Even though the story is coming along smoothly again, the hardest part is keeping track of the characters. There are 9 main protagonists in the novel; for this novel to work the way I need it to, there must be. So remembering where I left each one, as I jump back and forth between scenes, is a challenge. But a fun one.
A week ago, last night, I met up with some friends for drinks after work and, in a spontaneous moment, I went around the table asking each of them, in turn, what the best part of their week had been. Last night, I met up with them again and one of them asked me, immediately, what the best part of my week was. The answer, both Friday nights, was the same. The best part of my week was working on the novel.
Where does it go from here? I don’t know. In the last 14 days I have written 27,000 words, averaging just over 1900 words per day. To finish on time, this month, I have to average just over 1900 words per day the rest of the way. I am confident I will meet that goal. I am less confident that the entire story can be told in only 50,000 words. I’ll know more about that in 12 days.
Is it any good? I don’t know that yet, either. I don’t get to read it until it’s done.
But I know I won’t stop writing in 12 days, either way. The marathon may stop, and the rewriting will begin, but the process itself will never cease now. NaNoWriMo has taught me to be a writer, like I’ve never experienced writing before.
My eyes watered up when I wrote that last line.
Thank you, my friends, for your encouragement, your prodding, these last 14 days. These last 21 months. I began a process of learning when I launched tombeingtom.com, almost two years ago, and it has led me to this precise moment in time. I owe you for that.
If I can return even a part of that favor it would be with this quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
It is probably my favorite quote of all time, and has been for twenty years or more. I wish I would have listened to it sooner. Please listen to it now.
Whatever it is you dream, begin it.
You will not regret having tried.