So remember a month ago when I said I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo? (National Novel Writing Month.) The goal is to write a novel, 50,000 words, in 30 days. That breaks down to 1667 words everyday, roughly 3 pages.
Well, I not only succeeded but I kept writing and finished my story too! It’s a rare book that just happens to be 50,000 words so I kept going until I typed every writers favorite words: The End. I reached 50K on day 29, one whole day early, and I finished the story the following day, about 5 hours before the deadline.
And I have to say it wasn’t as bad as I thought! On a good day it would take me about 45 minutes to get my word count in, on a bad day , a few hours. While I had my initial idea of a story I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I kinda just let it come organically, and saw myself not only as the writer, but as the first reader too. One character started off Australian, then changed to British, then back to Australian. Another kinda disappeared accidentally. And the main characters arc didn’t come until right at the end, although I realized that some how I unconsciously knew and wrote some appropriate stuff in the beginning to match what happens at the end. So, I was just as surprised to find out what happened as a reader would be.
Doing NaNo also helped me realize how to write a book. One of the hardest parts about writing a novel is your inner critic. Inevitably, soon after you start, the inner critic starts to criticize not only your writing, but your entire idea. And, if you write slowly, the inner critic can wear you down. In my writers group back in America I would work on a story one chapter at a time, taking my time and polishing it up before moving to my next chapter. I never finished any of those books.
But now I realize that I should just plow through the first draft as quick as possible. Your inner critic doesn’t have time to take control if you are always moving forward. Now, during the rewriting process it will be in charge again, but it has lost much of its power. The book is finished, so it can’t stop me! Take that inner critic. *Sticks out tongue*
But writing a novel in a month isn’t easy, even when things go smoothly. Life gets waaaay to in the way. I got a few pretty big colds this month, got several surprise visits (literally the second I sat down to write people would call me and said “what are you doing now? Can we meet?” And not just normal friends I could refuse, but old friends I hadn’t seen in months and wouldn’t have the opportunity to see again for months or even years. So there was no way to refuse.)
So I didn’t hit my word count everyday, and in fact I fell behind in the first week. But here’s the awesome thing about NaNo: the community. After a few days my friend, who also participated and was following me, sent me an email of encouragement. And even better, the people on the “Writers in China” forum really stepped up and helped me out.
On the NaNo China forum there is a chatroom where people can go anytime and chat with fellow writers (all of whom are in China), and get support and encouragement. I found that this chatroom was indispensable for my novel. Not just the encouragement but something called a ‘Word War.’
Word wars are a period of time, from 20-30 minutes where everybody writes as fast as they can, and whoever writes the most words is the winner. I’m a fast typer, but nothing compared to some of my fellow writers and while I almost never won a war, I still came out on top. That’s because after 30 minutes I’d have around 1,000 words, more than half my daily quota. After two wars I would finish for the day. And, when I was a little behind I’d spend a lot of time in the chatrooms on the weekend making up the loss.
Not only was it helpful, but I ended up making a few friends. It seemed that the same people gravitated to the chat room again and again, and we got to know each other and help each other. There is Yining, an energetic moderator in charge of the China forums and keeping everyone civil. And Blackfirm, who kept falling behind during the week and yet was the first one of us to finish because she wrote soooooo fast in the word wars and basically won every time. Then there was Ineedmayo, a Brit in northern China, was one of the slower ones to finish, but sometimes it was just me and him in the chatrooms during the week so he helped me a lot. Anyway, thanks to these 3 in perticular I finished and I’m quite sure that I would have given up if it wasn’t for them. And I don’t even know their real names.
I also have to thank my co-workers to thank, especially an Aussie named Angus. A few days before the deadline he sent me a text, “80 hours remain.” I didn’t get it and I asked 80 hours for what? “For you to finish your novel,” he wrote back. It’s really nice to be accountable and to have people asking you about it. It gives a good dose of pressure. (Angus also wanted to make sure I finished my story, even after I hit 50K words he kept asking to see if I finished or not.)
So, I know what your wondering: what is the story? Well, it takes place in China (‘natch) and focuses on a relationship between a young American girl and a Chinese guy. I mean hey, we all need to see more asian guy/western women pairing so I’m just doing my part. It’s a young adult novel and before you ask, NO! You cannot read it. I wrote the first draft in 30 friggin days people! So there are still a lot of problems I need to fix up first. Give me a few more months, then we’ll talk.
So if anyone has been dreaming about writing a novel but “never having the time,” I would totally suggest NaNoWriMo. My first one feels very successful and I’m afraid I might have become an addict. I’m already looking forward to next year.