National Novel Writing Month
Ten people standing on the platform of the local rapid transit system (in my city, we call them Sky Trains) all with large bags clutching laptops and notebooks and pens. They are smiling and laughing, one of them keeps playing the same youtube clip over and over again on his iPhone. The train pulls in, the doors open and they all run in, yelling at each other and scrambling to get seats close to one another.
The doors shut, their bags go down, the laptops and notebooks open, the fingers flex and silence overcomes them. They are no longer just passengers, they are novelists at 90 km/hr.
What? I’m Canadian, okay? I have no idea what that is in miles.
And, yes, this did happen to me last month. In fact this was one of my favourite days during NaNoWriMo.
Let’s back up.
You hear a lot of either praise or critism in this community about the all-human fic, and how it has mostly become original fiction.
Now, I don't agree with this statement, I feel that even if your story is the most outlandish, non-related-to-Twilight-thing out there, there are still differences. Which is why, when I had an idea recently instead of making it fit a fanfic, I signed up for NaNoWriMo.
What is NaNoWriMo, you ask?
It stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s one month a year where hundreds of thousands of people sign up to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It starts at midnight on November 1st and goes until 11:59:99 on November 30th.
Some statistics about NaNoWriMo:
Participants in 2009: 167,150
Winners in 2009: 32,173
Number of words written in 2009 by all participants: 2,427,190,537
Number of words you must write a day to make 50k: 1667
Yes, this is why some of your favourite authors didn’t update in November.
*I must interject here to say, I WON!!!! I DID IT!!! 50,000 words in the bag! I ROCK!...and now back to the article**
NaNoWriMo is, at its center, supposed to do one thing. Motivate a person who dreams of writing a book someday, to write that book NOW. So, you might ask yourself, as fanfic authors, why should we bother? We write all the time, it's what we do. Especially if you write AH. It feels like you're writing an original fiction...sometimes.
I signed up because it's pretty much impossible for me to finish an original work, but WriMos seem to be the kick in the ass I need.
I've been flexing my writing muscles via FF for almost a year now, and thought NaNo would be a great proverbial 'push out of the nest' for me. I had an idea running around in my head, and I work well when challenged, so it seemed like the perfect fit.
I had a book idea I was really excited about, and I wanted to be sure that I got at least part of it down so I didn't just let it slip away int the ether.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the last three years, four now that this year is done. My first year, I entered in a little after the halfway mark (the 17th, I believe) with a friend and just wrote. It wasn’t official; we just competed against each other for fun.
I met up with people in my area at writing events (called "write-ins") and their perspective on NaNoWriMo was very different from mine, because I spend all year writing. Not to say that all of them don’t, but I would say the majority of them don’t.
NaNoWriMo is geared toward people wanting to write and needing a motivation to take the time out of their busy lives.
But, that motivation works even for us. I mean, fanfic authors can update whenever we want. Some of us might get pleas and demands, but ultimately we are at our leisure to update when we feel like it.
Let me tell you, I was not letting November 30 pass by and not be at 50,000 words. It just wasn't happening. And despite school, work, fanfiction, friends, and family I did it. So, obviously NaNo is doing something right.
**It also helps that I had a nemesis.**
And it was so weird to sit down on November 1st and not have all the little details ready for me. You know, things like last names and the setting, and secondary characters. I missed Lauren and Jessica, they are so convenient.
But then I got used to it and fell in love with the feeling. No longer did it have to be raining. No longer did the mean girl at school not have any redeeming qualities. No longer was there an over abundance of cutlery in all things. I could make the setting, the characters, the plot anything I wanted. It didn’t have to fit any predestined stereotype. I could have the story end without my romantic leads getting together. I could have the best friend be something so different from Alice and Angela that there is no way you could apply those names in a fanfiction setting.
It was both freeing and a little nerve wracking. For I could write the characters any way I wanted to but I also no longer had the safety net. And as anyone who has walked a tight-rope will tell you, the first time without a safety net is always nerve wracking.
Breakingdownslowly **the nemesis**
With fic, you need a defined chapter space, everything has to be perfect, I put in more of the character's through process and descriptions, which are my weaknesses but necessities, I'm also much more exact in how I word things. With NaNo, pretty much everything is worded to squeeze out my words. My chapters are also generally longer with more content in them and need a lot of work.
Heh, with this, I did my now standard bazillion-page outline and then started writing. The difference, no pressure. I knew that it will probably never see the light of day, so I didn’t care what I wrote, how I wrote it, or how anyone (but me!) would receive it. With fics, I’m always thinking of all the things I shouldn’t do or that might cause me to lose readers. I write my stories for me and I don’t tend to cater to my readers wants, because there is no way I can. I can’t please them all the same way because everyone wants something different, or something that doesn’t fit into the plan I have already set in motion. However, I listen to everything they mention. If there is something that bothers them, I’ll chat it out, explain why it’s that way. If I completely mess something up and it passes me and my betas, but a reader catches it, I’ll fix it, even if it means backtracking and rewriting.
The other difference, I get to create everything! The characters, the settings, the way everything happens. I give the characters personality, I give them life. Fanfic, you can create an alternate universe to what we already know, but you will always remember them as who they were first.
without a doubt developing the characterizations. I spent a lot of time before I ever started writing the story developing the so what on each character. Name, physical descriptions, back story, personalities - I needed to make these people live and breathe, and I couldn't do that without having those character studies fleshed out. In FF, even if a writer goes deep into characterization, there is so much inferred based on the book knowledge of the character, that a writer can let things slide. With OF - if you let something slide the holes are glaring.
The tiny details. When you write fic, you have all the characters names and physical descriptions already ready for you. And, even though I write primarily human fic now, I've always tried to draw my human character traits from the canon traits given to us. But here I had to decide names, birthdays, what kinds of cars would be reasonable, what they liked and didn't like etc.
And the place information too. I always set my fics in Forks, and I've been there more times than I can count (I even honeymooned there BEFORE Twilight came out). I know where things are and how to get places and street names. I set my novel in New York, and I've never been there and know nothing about it. That made writing things HARD. I had to ask how to buy tokens for the subway and I spent a lot more time on google researching this than I'd intended.
When I look back on November I honestly can’t say how I found the time to write. Before November started I was 100% sure I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I just didn’t have the time. But I did do it. I wrote 50,000 words and got my nifty winners badge. And it continues to amaze me.
So, if you are thinking you’d like to write a book, here’s my advice, it really isn’t original.
Just do it.
Don’t wait until you have time, you’ll never have enough. Don’t wait until you have every single detail figured out, write what you write and be prepared for revision. Don’t wait until next year, in fact don’t even wait until November. Start your book now. Challenge yourself. Dare yourself.
Make it a game, and have fun.
What was the most difficult thing about NaNo?
Every writer has days when there's not enough time or they just don't want to write that day. With NaNo, if you don't write one day you have to write twice as much the next day. You can't just skip a few days and everything's okay. I put myself a head on Tuesday, haven't written at all since then, and now I'm about 2,000 words behind.
How easy it was to get insecure about what had been written. I personally have never really struggled with writers block in FF, but doing OF, I found myself second guessing, which turns into 'is this good or is this schlock' and it would go down hill from there. It was hard to keep that doubt at bay, because that is what brought writers block on for me.
Finding the time to write. November is a busy month for me. Between trials at work, holiday functions for my husband's job and then finals (I'm in law school, where you have ONE test all semester and that is your WHOLE GRADE OMG), I just didn't have the time I needed.
Not getting to talk to people about it. Every year, I treat it as classified, top secret, CIA material. Call me protective, call me paranoid, eh, doesn’t matter, I’m afraid of it getting used for something else. Every year, the idea I have, I hope is one that someone else hasn’t already done, and hasn’t done better. So for me to share it would be giving away a plotline that someone else could run with and do better than me. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t want to read something I thought of, planned out and wrote, written better by someone else. If they thought it first, great! I’ll pour love all over it, but if it was mine first and it was done better, it’d just sting. Think of it like when a man leaves his wife for a younger, prettier, better woman.
Did you win?
8K left. Fairly simple to do...I hope. Definitely more manageable than the 15K I had on the last day of NaNo, at any rate.
t's thursday, 11/27, and I have 2,501 words to go! I feel good about making the target, but don't want to jinx myself!
Technically not, but I wrote almost 20k words of an idea I'm excited about and still want to keep writing on. So even if I didn't hit 50k, I feel like I've won.
YES!! This year was my first year and I surpassed the 50K goal. Last year I came reallyclose and then hit a block and couldn’t produce anything else. So I was so stoked to get the winner hoopla and everything.
Did you find having a goal with your word count helped or hindered your writing?
It definitely helped. I had competitors (mainly you for the last half of the month) I could compare against and I rediscovered my old habit for getting out the words easier and faster. I've always been a bit of a freak about how long things are anyway, this just made it more extreme.
absolutely helped me. I am a competitor/athlete, so the milestones are huge. I am actually going to set up my own log in excel with the same bar graph to track my progress through to completion. My hope is by doing that, I will stay focused on the end target of completion.
It helped and it hindered. I felt the stress considering how much I had to do outside of writing, but it was nice to have a goal and to try to stick to it. It was a reasonable goal, too, which meant that you could find the time to do it and feel like you accomplished a lot more than just writing 1600 words.
My first year it freaked me out! I was like 50K in 13 days! Yeah right! I had nothing. No outline, no notes, no character blurbs, nothing! I just sat at my desk for a couple hours a day and wrote. It all formed on its own, but it was a painfully slow process.
Year four is a different story. In September, I got a reminder email from my friend telling me it was in a couple months so I better be ready. So I took out my little Five-Star notebook and cheap-ass Bic pen and started jotting down an idea and an outline. Soon I had pages of sketches of things and pictures I’d ripped from magazines and my own stash of pictures shoved into the notebook. By mid September my hand was hurting so bad from the constant jotting that I switched everything to the computer and kept the pictures and stuff in a special folder. I couldn’t stop myself. A couple days before the start day, I looked at the word document and the outline was 43 pages long. November 1st hit and by the end of the day I had over 10K written. 10K in one day… I figured out what worked for me so I could accomplish the 50K by the end of the month. I couldn’t wing-it; I had to invest time into the planning process first. And by day 21, I had over 50K. By day 23, I had over 60K; I’m only about 1/3 through the story and it’s still not done!
Are you going to keep working on the manuscript you wrote in NaNo?
From where I am now, I know it's far from over. The novel spans across roughly two years. I've only written about a month. But this story has a lot of potential for me.
bsolutely. It might not turn out to be anything of merit, but it's another personal goal, one that would have shocked the crap out of me a year ago.
Absolutely. I'm looking forward to Christmas break for that exact reason.
Yes, I’m working on other as well and they come first, because they were started first, but I will continue to work on my NaNo when they give me trouble.
You’re sitting on a reclining chair at someone’s house, your laptop open on your knees, your fingers clicking away at the keyboard. Your snuggie is pulled up to your chin because even though you don’t know this people too well, it’s bloody cold out. There are six people around you, some typing, some socialinzing.
Every time you open your mouth to talk people yell at you to shut up and then stare for another minute until the typing continues on the keyboard.
A minute later, you open your web browser, you go to update your wordcount, and instead of showing you a new, slightly higher number, you see this:
And six people cheer for you.