At the end of October, I announced that I was participating in National Novel Writing Month. Last Friday, November 29, I passed 50,000 words and finished a novel. It sounds straightforward. After all, we learn in elementary school how to tell stories: a beginning, a middle, and an end. But in reality, I had no idea what to expect from this experience, so it’s only right that how it turned out was unexpected. This process taught me so much about myself, how I write, and how writing helps me.
Here’s how everything went down.
On the first day of the month, I wasn’t finished planning the story and spent my writing time writing my outline. I’ll admit, I was also nervous and didn’t want to start until I was sure I was ready. The actual writing started on the second day. Nerves hit again. What if the words didn’t come out right? What if the story was boring? What if I couldn’t tell it in the way I imagined? I pushed the doubts aside and just wrote the scenes and words that came to my mind. It was only a first draft, anyway. Any problems would be fixed at the revision stage.
I don’t write on Sundays, so I knew I would need to make up the word count for four days by writing more on the day I did write. At first, though, my word counts were pretty low. Nerves again. It felt like I was hitting snags and dragging along. But as the month went on, the story started to flow. The characters became more real. The dialogue was effortless. On many days, I exceeded the necessary word count.
Occasionally, an idea would come to mind that wasn’t part of the outline. I wrote it, anyway. Files are saved with scenes that will need to be added to the rest of the story somehow because they became essential parts of the story. Another problem to be solved during the revision stage.
Writing every day wasn’t always easy, or feasible. Some days, I just could not get into the story. There were other days when I wanted to write, but family commitments or appointments prevented me from sitting down in front of the computer. Towards the end of the month, I started to worry that the story would be too short. Perhaps that’s why the extra scenes didn’t bother me very much: they gave me more words to apply to the total word count. In the end, I finished with 50,232 words. I got the badge on the website and the laurels on my profile picture and ordered the T-shirt.
More important than what I did, though, was what I learned.
It doesn’t have to take me years to write the first draft of a book. The words don’t have to come out perfectly the first time. I can write the story that comes to my head, power through or skip ahead when a part is giving me trouble, and jot down ideas that weren’t part of the original plan.
Having an outline is helpful. When I struggled to write, I was able to push forward because I knew where the story was going. Still, I didn’t feel bound to my outline—it just gave me a path to follow. When I allowed myself to explore the story further, I learned more about my characters, letting them tell their own story.
Inspiration wasn’t limited to the project I was working on. Ideas came for blog posts. New stories formed that had nothing to do with my other projects. Activities that have nothing to do with writing came to my mind. I was happier throughout the day when I wrote in the morning. I learned that I can set a goal, work towards it, and accomplish it.
Another important lesson was that writers help and encourage each other, they don’t compete. That lesson will be explored in a future blog post.
I missed writing blog posts, too. Wanting to finish the novel by the end of the month—along with having a life outside of writing—prevented me from writing the posts I thought I would still be able to write. And I missed working on my fantasy novels. My head is filled with inspiration and my soul wants to write all the time now.
It’s cliché—and almost every writer who participated in NaNoWriMo will probably say this—but I am so glad I participated. Over the past month, I’ve developed a good habit of writing every day and found a joy in writing that I thought I had lost. Even if I’m not able to write everything I thought I would in a given day, I can be satisfied with what I did do. Hopefully that will continue. And if I start to slip, another NaNoWriMo should get me back on track.