It’s almost October, and I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s blogs. Everyone is talking about NaNoWriMo, so I thought…. NaNo? WhyNot?
NaNoWriMo has been extremely influential and literally life-changing for my writing career, but there were several years that I turned my nose up at it. I used to say, “NaNo? Hell No!” This post is all about why I thought that…and when I changed.
So let me tell you a story.
I began writing when I was twelve years old. By the time I was fourteen I was certain I was going to be a best seller before I was sixteen. When I was sixteen I realized I had to get working at this whole publishing thing or I was going to get too old to do it. (I mean, who publishes their first book AFTER they’re 18? Heck no. I wouldn’t be, like, cool in high school if I did that!)
So I sent my query letter off to an agent. I waited the required number of weeks until I got my SASE back, and then I cried myself to sleep when it said basically, thanks, but no thanks. (It was, however, a personalized rejection, which I now realize is quite an accomplishment in the querying writer’s world.)
My life, however, was ruined. I mean. The first agent I ever sent my novel to, didn’t want it. What was I going to do? (Yes. I was a little dramatic.)
But no, really. What could I do? I don’t know. Maybe just keep writing.
That’s what I did. Novel after novel after novel. Usually three or four or five all at once. I had several people tell me, “Don’t ever take a creative writing class. They just want to tell you rules and destroy your natural genius in writing.” So for a long time I didn’t take creative writing classes. And then I decided that I wanted to. I grit my teeth, promised myself I would cling to my natural genius, and I would not allow this single creative writing class to destroy me.
It didn’t destroy me. It remade me.
I learned. So much. I took several creative writing classes in college. One of them I honestly thought was intended to destroy my natural genius. I didn’t like the way the teacher taught. I didn’t like the short story examples I had to read. I didn’t like the formulaic crap we were forced to write. And do you know what? I dropped the class.
It was around this time that I learned about NaNoWriMo. I had a friend who loved doing it, and the first thought that came to my mind was, “That’s only something amateurs do. I want to be a professional writer. I’m never going to touch something so awful as NaNoWriMo.”
I kept plodding away on my writing projects. This was kind of a dry spell in my writing life. I had no real umph, no real drive. I kept writing, because I knew it was what I wanted to do, but I felt like every word I put down was wrong, every character I created was flat, every story I thought of was crap.
I moved away from home in 2006 and started getting more serious about my writing again. Although, I can’t say how serious I was when I was younger. I found that original query letter I sent out at 14 and I cried again. This time I cried because I never knew how terrible the query had been.
These were the years when I would randomly think of NaNoWriMo in the middle of the summer. Or I would remember November was the month for it and look at the calendar to see that it was already the twenty-third. I allowed myself to consider the possibility of perhaps participating in it. After all, those creative writing classes certainly hadn’t squashed my inner writer like a bug. Perhaps NaNo wouldn’t, either.
In April of 2010 (I was unaware there was more to NaNo than just November. Funny that I did this during Camp.) But that year I sat down to the computer and started writing this idea I’d been thinking of for a while. I got the first chapter done and read it to my husband, and he said, “Well, what happens next?” I said, “I don’t know.” and he said, “So go write it!”
That next week was a whirlwind of writing a few chapters, reading them to the hubby, getting scolded for stopping on a cliff-hanger ending, and hurrying back to my computer so I could discover the next big reveal. (Yes. I am a pantser, in case anyone was wondering after that paragraph.)
Ten days later I had 30 or 40,000 words written and a complete rough draft of the novel.
That November in 2010 was the one when the realization that NaNoWriMo happens this month, and the proximity to the end of the month were both reasonable. I didn’t think of NaNo until the tenth, but I figured I wanted to be a professional writer, and those daily word count goals would be easy enough to catch up on. I’d finished that novel in April that was almost long enough to be a NaNo. I signed up and started writing.
You know those mid-November blues. Don’t deny it. You know them. Well, I got them. Bad. Long story short, at two days to the end of the month I still had 16,000 words to write to “win” NaNoWriMo. I have my husband to thank for me winning that year. He said, “16,000? You can do it.” So I locked myself in a room with the computer and pounded out six thousand words that first day. The last day saw me up early in the morning. Hubby brought me breakfast. He brought me lunch. He brought me dinner. The whole day long I sat there pounding keys. This was a word war to the max!
Eleven o’clock PM I smiled to myself and typed out the last two words. The End. I validated my word count with just over fifty thousand words, celebrated with my husband that I’d done it, and I went to bed.
And My. Life. Changed.
Createspace was giving away free proofs of your NaNo novel as a prize for winning that year. I read through the novel once, fixed a few of the spelling errors, slapped together some cover art and hit, “Send me my proof.”
Three days later I had a novel in my hands. My novel. My book. I could feel it, flip through the pages. I could smell the fresh ink. I could curl up in bed and read it. Which I did. Then I lent it to my mom, who loved it. And she lent it to my sister, who loved it. My dad, my sister in law, my other sister. The book was passed around from hand to hand and with every pass I heard the same thing. “I love it.”
It was the first time since I was fourteen years old that I honestly believed I could publish something. It was a re-ignition of that fire I’d felt as a young adult. I could write. I loved to write. And I wanted to be able to share it with people.
NaNoWriMo did that for me. I don’t even want to imagine how different things would have been if I’d said, 16,000 words were too many to write in two days. I don’t want to imagine where I would be if I never finished that NaNo. I like to think that I would have tried again the next November and that I would have gotten that same ignition then, but all I can say is I’m glad I won that first year. Because it truly changed my mind set.
Okay. The story’s not really over. That was 2010, and now it’s six years later and I’m finally getting my first novel published. It still took me a while to get over that, “I’m good, but I’m just not good enough” mindset that I had when I was younger. But I started to change. NaNo was my catalyst. I can track the very beginning of that change in my writing life to November 10, 2010 when I said…NaNo? WhyNot?
I know it’s hard. It is. That’s a lot of words to write in one month. But what kind of writer do you want to be? If you’re serious about being a professional writer, then you’re going to have to write a lot of words. There’s just something electric, something incredible about the community and the excitement of NaNoWriMo that can be life changing. There’s something amazing about holding your novel in your hands. So have fun this November. And enjoy the writing.