I joined the West Coast Writer’s Circle during 2011 when I was struggling to sit down and write the last chapter of Warrior on Wheels in time for Damian’s 13th birthday. At the September meeting we were told about NaNoWriMo. At that point I didn’t even consider doing it as I had so much on my plate already with my studies. But… somewhere it was brewing in my cluttered mind, perhaps it was the excitement I heard when it was explained, or perhaps it’s this tendency I have towards biting off more than I can chew. After the October meeting, my mind was made up and I signed up for NaNoWriMo.
Let me just explain… NaNoWriMo happens every year in November around the world. The goal is to start writing on the 1 November and complete a 50,000 word novel by the 30th November. 50,000 words in 30 days. That is 1,667 words per day. There is no ‘prize’ – your prize is your completed book, which you then can do whatever you like with.
You begin by creating your profile on the website. You then start receiving notices from the Municipal Liaisons (MLs). There is a launch party before the start and then each Saturday, from 4pm to 6pm there were ‘Write Ins’ at Primi Piatti. I only managed to attend one, but what fun! Imagine a large table in the middle of a restaurant with approximately 10 people sitting with laptops, ipads or good old-fashioned notepad and pen. In between chatting and getting to know one another and discussing our plots, we had 10 minute word sprints – all furiously clocking up word count on our individual stories. At the end of it all the MLs organise a TGIO (Thank Goodness It’s Over) Party. Also, due to the location and my work hours I couldn’t make that.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules except that you cannot start writing before November the 1st and you must finish by midnight on 30th November. Well, I was so excited I stayed up, in bed with chocolate cake, waiting for the clock to strike 12 on 1 November to start with my first words. Up until a few days before NaNo, I had an entirely different story in mind… my first love – fantasy! But driving home one day a new thought popped into my head and I went with a more mainstream fiction story. I think for a first NaNo this was a good decision as it was an easier write. The other ‘rule’ is that you cannot edit. The idea of NaNo is to get your 50,000 word story down. If you’re editing or deleting you are wasting words and time. What I did was that if I didn’t like something I had written I highlighted it in yellow to mark it for changing from 1 December onwards.
Some tips we were given to buff up word count was to use ‘do not’ instead of don’t, ‘would not’ instead of wouldn’t etc. I found it almost like a bonus where if I felt I had forgotten to do that I would use the REPLACE ALL function in Word and replace those types of words and instantly see my word count buffed up by around 50 words. Did I say that out loud… that almost felt like cheating! <>
Once you start writing, the NaNoWriMo profile page has a tool where you can update your word count daily and see a graph and statistics of your progress. I absolutely loved checking in every day and tracking my progress and how many words I needed to do per day to remain on target. It also helped to see our other regional writers’ word counts displayed. Excellent motivation for trying to catch up (or overtake if you have a competitive nature!).
I still had one exam to go on the 11th November – French! And so, for anyone reading my end product of Nano, you will note my guilt in the form of a French character occasionally using a few French phrases! Add to that, Damian’s 13th birthday party on 12th November – with much gratitude I am blessed to say that awesome friends took care of all of that organising for me, we just had to arrive. At Damian’s party we were surprised with the bicycle and rickshaw for our Argus ride (see my blog “My Argus Experience”), and so that was another activity added to our already busy November.
Utter exhaustion set in and I learned so much about myself during November 2011. I’ve always had the idea about myself that ‘I lack discipline’ and that ‘I never finish things I start’. I proved both of those sentiments untrue during NaNo. The exhaustion made for good story fillers… I managed to flood my home… twice… on two consecutive days! Coincidentally… around that time, my main character managed to flood her home too! I remembered a quote about writing, I cannot remember who the author is but will update when I can trace: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” And I can honestly say that I believe that getting out there and living life makes for good storytelling.
My first ‘sticking’ point was around 35,000 words – where I thought I could never come up with another 15,000 words and frankly was so exhausted. Staying up until midnight continuously begins to take its toll. So did working all day, coming home to make dinner, cycling, studying and only starting to write when all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But I pushed through to at least get some words down. That period is clearly noticeable on my graph where I was below target word count. My next sticking point was at 45,000 words. I felt I had already said all I needed to and was ready to finish my story, but I didn’t feel the ending had another 5,000 words in it. We had our writer’s group meeting that weekend and Dawn told me that if I was ready to end then I should just finish the story and then go back and pad it. That is exactly what I did, but instead of padding too much, I added an epilogue which actually worked well for my story.
I finished on 28th November with 50,158 words. The feeling is amazing when you upload your file onto the NaNo site to verify your word count and you get your purple winner’s bar. You are then able to access the winners’ goodies which include a certificate with your name as the author and title of your book, as well as a winner stamp that can be used on your personal sites. Another great prize was an offering from CreateSpace for 5 printed copies of our book.
This was definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone who has ever said ‘one day I will write a book’. It was amazing fun and just the encouragement needed to make ‘one day’ happen right now. In the final letter leading up to the end from CEO Chris Baty, he speaks of what happens in the final week where we start feeling guilty for neglecting other chores. He says that all those thing we feel we should be doing will not be the things we remember 10 years from now, his words were so profound:
“You will always remember the time you were stupid enough to take on the challenge of a lifetime… and mighty enough to see it through.” ~ Chris Baty