No, it’s not baby speak, or technobabble, or any other sort of babble. NaNoWriMo is the abbreviated form of National Novel Writing Month, which takes place throughout the month of November. While I won’t get into the specifics of NaNoWriMo here (you’re better served by following this link to find out more straight from their website), I thought it very timely that my first real entry here should discuss this month-long writer’s challenge and how it helped me reach the next stage in my life as a writer.
Back in 2005, I was struggling with my writing in a way I’d never done before. In hindsight, I was sabotaging my own efforts to launch any attempt at creating a novel-sized work with my own perfectionism, but at the time, it felt as though my inspiration had left me to flounder helplessly in my pursuits. It was the lowest point I’d ever reached in my writing to date, and that dark dissatisfaction at my inability to write wormed its way into other aspects of my life. Sure, I was writing short stories just like I always had, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to write a novel.
I honestly don’t recall now how I’d heard of NaNoWriMo. Maybe it was from a friend online who was trying to get other people into it as well, but how I got to their site isn’t nearly as important as what happened once I got there. The more I read about this challenge – 50,000 words written in the span of a month – the more I wanted to do it, if only to see how far I could get before my perfectionism shut me down. I decided on my story idea, inspired greatly by the flavor of short stories I was writing at the time, and was brainstorming characters and plot all the way through the last week of October. It was all in my head, nothing written down in any way that would give me a head start on the challenge, and all loosely structured to give myself the freedom to go anywhere my characters wanted to go with the story.
As the clock struck midnight, I started writing the opening chapter of my month-long obsession. I set myself word count goals for each day, taking into account the hectic family reunion on Thanksgiving day, and devoted myself to writing at every possible moment. To assist me in writing away from home, I bought a PDA (nicknamed Ziggy) with a bare-bones version of Word on it and a pocket-sized keyboard to go with it. I wrote on the train to work, at lunch, in coffeehouses and bookstores – anywhere I could find a few spare moments to tap out another little facet of my story. The discipline I exercised in that one month was greater than any I’d ever shown in my previous projects. Then again, I never had a community of fellow writers to hold me accountable in my previous projects.
It’s true, my favorite aspect of NaNoWriMo was the write-out. People would announce what coffeehouse they’d go to for a bit of writing and invite others to come out and join them. This flies in the face of the age-old stereotype of the writer locked in his little room, crafting tales in absolute solitude. It’s a stereotype I embody often, but for this one month I was the social writer, sitting with other writers as we all created whole new literary worlds. It was great fun, and immensely helpful to have those of like mind around to bounce the occasional idea off of, or perhaps to inquire about a particular subject or turn of phrase or what have you. That community of writers is at the core of NaNoWriMo and, I believe, the key to its success in many ways.
At the end of November, one day before the end of the month, I crossed the 50,000 word mark. I felt a sense of accomplishment greatly different from any I’d felt from completing a short story. Here, in all its crappy first draft glory, was my first novel, titled Inanimate Gods. It was the most agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, exhausting and amazing feeling in the world to have written my first book, and while I reveled in that achievement, I knew that my journey had only just begun.
But that’s a different story for another time…