When I first heard about NaNoWriMo , I thought it was some crazy contest. All I could think of was Robin William’s alien greeting on Mork and Mindy, Na-Nu, Na-Nu.
I soon learned that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was a unique opportunity to get the bones of a finished novel written in the space of one month. Not even a thirty-one day month! http://nanowrimo.org/
Four years ago, in the midst of a writing dry spell, I decided to put my half-finished cozy aside and take the NaNo challenge. The lure of turning out 50,000 words in one month was powerful.
In a daring maneuver (I’m a bit of a coward), I changed my genre from Mystery to Paranormal. I wanted to write a ghost story.
Before attempting the intensive writing experiment, however, I created a plot outline. Not easy for a Pantser, but I knew I’d spend valuable time trying to figure out the basics if I didn’t give myself some guidelines.
The outline wasn’t much, but it did give me the main story and some of the characters. It ran something like this:
A young woman runs away from a controlling boyfriend, only to find herself sharing her new apartment with a controlling ghost. She meets a new friend who helps her re-start her life and finds a gorgeous guy who eventually rescues her from the clutches of the villain.
Sounds pretty simple, but that and my imagination carried me forward. Here are links for outlines:
For the location, I chose Salem, MA., next door to my home town, and an apartment not far from the House of Seven Gables.
Once I came up with a basic story line, I pulled out my desk calendar and marked out word counts for each day. Fifty thousand words divided by four weeks came out to 12,500. I broke my word counts down into manageable pieces. Some days, I figured I could only do 500. But other days, I believed I could grind out a few thousand. Whenever something came up, like my first Crime Bake Writer’s Conference, I tried to add extra words to the days around it.
When people start to lose their momentum, the folks at NaNo, who had foreseen the inevitable dips in energy and confidence, come through with inspirational pep talks and forums where people can chat.
In the weeks before the challenge, people are encouraged to join a group of writers like themselves. At the end of every day, writers input their word count and then can access a page showing each writer’s current total.
I was part of a group of five. At first, I kept my count close to the person with the highest total. I tend to be a tad competitive. Toward the middle of the month, however, the story stalled and with it, my energy and confidence. I started to believe that I hadn’t the skill to write a complete novel.
Ready to quit, I checked the group site to see how far behind I’d gotten. Surprise! I wasn’t the only person with flagging scores. Others had the same problem. The knowledge that I wasn’t alone gave me the impetus I needed to keep going. At some points in my story, I wrote anything to get through to a place where I could again pick up the train of my plot.
My November NaNo experience gave me so much more than that manuscript. I’d learned that, no matter how many difficulties I had with the writing, I could get through it and reach my goal.
I’m grateful to be a part of the NaNoWriMo community, a community of writers that reaches around the world.
Then, In March of Last year, with a few of my colleagues, including our own Britt Vassarhelyi, I participated in a NaNoWriMo-type challenge. That exercise gave me another manuscript that I’ll be pitching at this year’s Crime Bake Conference.
As a lifelong procrastinator, the idea of holding myself to the fire for one month of intensive writing was frightening. If I’d had to do it alone, I might not have succeeded. Working with a group of my peers gave me the encouragement and drive to complete the exciting challenge.
For those of you who missed this year’s NaNoWriMo, gather a few of your comrades, choose a month, and host your own Novel Writing Month.
And, remember. Keep writing!