NaNoWriMo, as you probably know, stands for National November Writing Month. It’s a crazy-ass month-long 50,000-word writing challenge. I’ve known about it for a long time and each year I make a less-wimpy attempt to gear up for it. But for some reason, this year clicked, and I did it.
I was slow to start (see graph below) and really didn’t get into the whole social aspect of this, you know, sharing the stress with others. I think I was not so invested in actually achieving this, hedging my bets in case I didn’t write much. Of course, the whole social aspect is what keeps some folks motivated. And, thank you, I did like the pep letters sent all month by the NaNoWriMo and the local NaNoWriMo folks (scarily, holding meet-ups just around the corner). But I didn’t get involved more than that.
I had a few notes prepared in advance, a few one liners for plot milestones, a rough idea where I was taking it. Y’see, I have a notebook where I put one liners to help me kick-off a short story (my preferred format, for many reasons). I was excited for NaNoWriMo to get me in gear to write all of these short stories. It’d be an Anthology (my second, by the way).
Then in the dying days of October, I found out NaNoWriMo was specifically for a novel. Gulp. I had to rethink what I was doing. Could I use these short story ideas, weaving them into the overall narrative? Yes, I could. And, yes, I did, it worked well, if I may, humbly, say so.
Like I said, I was very slow to start. I was writing when I could, 30 minutes at night, 15 minutes in the morning, the time between when I dropped off my son at the rink and when the game started. I slowly inched my way up. When it was finally Thanksgiving, I knew I needed to give it a weekend push. When I hit 30k, I knew this could be done, I was getting a feel for how much time I needed to get stuff out. When I crossed 40k, I felt quite relaxed, had the last 10k words measured out, I was actually targeting to end the novel around 50k.
Last night, I came home with 3,000 words left. So I had a calm (as usual, long) dinner with the family and then sat down to finish. I kept using the Official NaNoWriMo Word Counter, as it was slightly different (higher!) than MS Word (yes, I wrote on my PC because the Mac is shared and I wouldn’t have it with me when traveling). I was confident I could finish by midnight, so in the last stretch I was not stressed or rushed. It was quite easy, anti-climactic, almost.
The funny thing, I finished the story with a few hundreds of words to go. So it was back to see where I could insert some words without forcing it and messing things up. When I checked again, I has 30 words to go, then 10, then – Well, I wasn’t thinking what would happen when I passed 50k. Suddenly, another webpage opened with a Winner’s Certificate (now on our fridge), and a cute congratulatory video.
I’d done it.
The kids were already asleep. I interrupted my wife as she was watching the 3rd period of Bruins at the Leafs, and did a wee victory dance. She rolled her eyes and smiled, glad to have me back in her life, and told me to sit and watch the the rest of the game (also having an awesome November, the Bruins won!).
So. Have you done this before or this year? Will you be doing it next year?
As for me, I’m starting a new notebook page to start collecting thoughts and plots for next year and we’ll see if I can do it again.
The guy who started it all, Chris Baty (I always think “Batty”), has done this for 13 years (see his completion announcement, NaNo reflections from Chris; and origin story, here). Over the years, the program had grown, adding a Script-Writing Frenzy and a Youth Program (which each year I mention to my my daughter). Chris is now moving on to run the parent non-profit, handing off NaNoWriMo to his faithful crew.
The driving force for this zaniness is to just get folks writing. My favorite line from all this is “It’s all about quantity, not quality”, to get folks off their butts, a sort of no-judgement-zone, a “learn to ignore the editor”, lower you expectations, and just put words to paper – you can sort out the first draft in December.
In 2010, they had over 200,000 participants, with more than 30,000 writing more than 50K words by the midnight deadline. This year they’ve tallied up 3 Billion words (about 60,000 NaNoWriMo equivalents). I don’t know how many finished, as I am writing this before the West Coast wakes to tally up the final count of winner. But Congratulations to everyone who crossed the finish line with me.
UPDATE 08dec11: The NaNoWriMo folks posted all the stats for this year on their site.