I did something new this past November. I took the National Novel Writing Month challenge: writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I have always wanted to write a novel since I was young. Throughout the years, I have completed only a small number of fictional short stories and many failed attempts at writing a “novel”. These “novels” usually contain one and a half chapters before I lose interest. I had heard of other people who have taken the NaNoWriMo challenge and I thought that it was just the thing that I need to force myself to expand my writing abilities.
Creating a fictional story from your head, plotting it out, and then laboring to write it out with detail is a large and long-term do-it-yourself project. Some people are bursting with fresh and new ideas. I am not one of those lucky writers so this project was a challenge that I had to really work on.
When I first started, I imagined that I would have difficulties but I imagined that in the end I would create something I would enjoy and feel accomplished. Early on in the writing month my preconceived notions about the existence of the word fairy was thoroughly squashed. Despite this unfortunate disappointment, I was surprised by what I actually gained from NaNoWriMo, which was more than the 50,051 words that I completed in November.
Some of these lessons became obvious within the first week and others I only noticed when I stepped back after completion. The first mistake that I made was not having a completed outline when November 1st hit. I had some character profiles and outlined the main concepts of the story. I even went on a local trip in the greater Seattle area to get my bearings for the setting of the story. But my downfall in past writing attempts has always been the conclusion of the story. Once again I had not yet planned out exactly how the story would end when I started my writing challenge. This made it difficult to know where the story was going while writing.
After realizing I was not fully prepared, I became determined to just put in the time and put down words. It really did not matter what words I put down as long as they were for the story. This method worked really well for the first half of the story that I had plotted out in detail.
I discovered the most important guideline about writing is to just sit down, put in the time, and write! Sometimes the most difficult part is setting aside time in my busy day to write for a few hours. To complete between 1,500 and 2,000 words each day (as is the daily goal to reach the overall goal of 50,000 words) I needed to set aside around three hours to write. With a full time job this leaves very little wiggle room in my daily schedule.
The hardest part of writing is just sitting down in front of the computer and opening the correct file without opening a web browser first.Then once you are sitting down and writing it is difficult to not get distracted. The most efficient writing time occurred when I had no internet access. Suprise, suprise. I have finally realized how much time I spend just browsing social media and reading radome web sites. I found that I was most productive while writing on my lunch breaks at work. There is absolutely no possibility of connecting to the internet in our break room which allowed me to get a good 45 minutes and around 500 words added to my story! I have yet to replicate these conditions at home and may have to add writing during lunch break as part of my on going daily routine.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to finally get started on writing a novel and get words to the page. This means that tricky things like grammar, spelling and sentence structure can be ignored. Those can be fixed in the editing process. I found if I split up conjunctions I get more words: don’t becomes do not. That is two words out of one and that adds up in the word count!
It is also difficult to write even when I do not want to. Words do not write themselves. It was a battle of the ego sometimes to get myself to just do what I needed to. It really helped to have the motivational pep talks that the NaNoWriMo web page provides. Sometimes you just need a little shove, or a mental kick in the pants to get myself to buckle down behind the keyboard.
In the end, my story is only partially completed. Turns out 50,000 words is not that many in a novel. Now I have words to edit and expand on to finish up my first novel. It will still be a work in progress but it is a good start for writing from scratch.