Last November, I’ve participated to a writing challenge called Nanowrimo, standing for National Novel Writing Month. A novel is just defined by the number of words, 50,000, the genre does not matter, and the challenge is to write it in 30 days, during the month of November.
I signed in for free on the Nanowrimo website, and each day, I wrote my story and noted the word count on the website. When I reached 50,000, on Day 25, I validated it by copy-pasting my novel on the website – without saving it and… I won! What did I win? I just won the fact of having written a novel, at least the first draft.
The Nanowrimo rule for those who write something brand new (you can also work on an on-going project) is to start writing on November 1st, nothing before that date, but you can get ready and prepare beforehand.
That’s what I did in October, when I decided to participate, I felt more comfortable not starting from complete scratch on the d-day. My prep consisted in writing a few descriptions of the main characters: who they were, what they liked, disliked, where they lived, their habits, etc. I had also an idea of the plot, but I wanted it to be loose, not to force anything to happen. I read something interesting that Stephen King said about writing stories: they already exist, the task of the writer is to uncover them.
My daily writing sessions
To reach 50,000 words at the end of the month, I needed to write 1,667 words every day. I wrote mostly in the morning, but it wasn’t always doable, so I did a few night sessions.
I wanted to write every day so I could win a medal – a virtual one – if I wrote 30 days in a row, it’s exactly the kind of silly motivation that works on me.
The writing sessions looked pretty similar, day after day: I sat in front of my computer, put on a finger-less glove on my right hand – the one that gets cold quickly, I read the threads I’ve left on my notebook the day before, picked one of them and started writing. It took me about 45 minutes to write the daily count of words.
After the writing session, I felt empty and thought that I was done FOREVER. That’s all I got, bye.
It can seem paradoxical because I was the one making all the decisions, but I felt like I had to listen to what the characters had to tell me. At the end of a session, I wrote down where everybody was at, the very threads I had to keep working on the day after, even though I had no real idea where it was going. I had to trust me, and trust my characters.
When the writing was done, I wasn’t done with the process yet. I thought about it all day long. Flossing in front of my mirror helped me, biking too, talking to my friends about some completely different stuff: it may have looked that I was daydreaming but I was super focused, or at least my brain was busy trying to figure out how to make sense of everything. I paid more attention to the conversations around me, behaviors, tiny stuff. That’s totally what this character could have said/done: I was looking for inspiration in anything and everything.
Sometimes, but not every day, I did 2 writing sessions. I didn’t want to overdo it though, I didn’t want to lose the pleasure of writing. I wanted to be eager to sit every morning and write my story.
My daily stats
Forgetting about my inner editor
Writing comes easy to me (I should say, writing in French): as far as I can remember it’s been easy, and I practiced a lot over the years, writing several non-fiction books and this blog for more than 5 years. In a word, I’m used to write. It’s probably why Nanowrimo has not been a painful experience for me. The real game-changer was the rule of shutting down my inner editor. The goal is to write 50,000 words = it’s more about quantity than quality. There’s no self-critics allowed, which really helps to write even faster and better: I can do what I want. It’s very freeing: I wasn’t constantly wondering if what I wrote was any good, or if this whole project was even worth my time. I just did it.
I told a few friends I was doing Nanowrimo, to be accountable. I had some doubts about saying it, but it was recommended on the guidelines. I was surprised of the effects 1) people were curious and very encouraging 2) I learned that some of my friends wanted to do the same, they also wanted to write a novel, but never really tried. I hope they’ll find the desire to do it next year!
Even though I said I was writing a novel, I didn’t say to anybody what it was about: I didn’t want to be influenced or judged. But I did use some assistance, not on the story itself, but on the way of moving the story forward:
- I followed a few Youtube live videos from the Nanowrimo team; they were super helpful to unblock some scenes or emulate creativity.
- I read the book No Plot, No problem, written by the founder of Nanowrimo. I’ve read everything about the prep before starting, and in the course of November I used the weekly chapters on recommendations and pep talks.
The most popular genres of Nanowriters
Well… not much. The novel is written, the story has a beginning and an end, I’ve printed it, but I haven’t looked at it, read it or even touched it. I plan to read it in January, and now, I’m letting it sink in. When I’ll read it, I’ll decide what I do with it. If it sucks, that’s it, I’ll let it go, and if I feel that I can do something with it and that I’m still interested in the story, I’ll start the revisions. I know that a first draft is never good, but I’ll try to have a sense of what I want to do with it.
A final word
I’m super happy and proud I’ve done this first Nanowrimo. I liked the fact of being focused on this one task that seemed impossible at first. I’ve tried before to write a novel, but failed. I finally let go of the excuses and start doing it again. The word count, the deadline, the community around this event: it works for me!
I’ve read something interesting in the conclusion of No plot no problem. Why do we write? It can be intimidating. People around us want to read what we write, give their opinion, and it seems that the only sign of success is to be published. But what about having as a hobby jigsaw puzzles, cook, or play baseball? We don’t expect of these people to become champion of the world of jigsaw puzzles, famous chefs, nor athletes. I found this very motivating: I just do it cause I like writing stories. It’s a hobby.