By Tessa Soderberg
Every year I saw the question on the writing e-groups I’m a member of asking, “who is doing NaNoWriMo this year?" I thought: Not me, 50,000 words in 30 days—I couldn't do that!
In 2010 I discovered that I could. I was trying to write a novel about civilians during World War II. I already had half a dozen false starts. NaNoWriMo was about to begin, and I thought why not try it? I've never been a disciplined every day writer. When an idea grabs me I sit down and run with it, leaving the editing for later. First, I get the whole gory mess on the computer.
So NaNoWriMo was perfect: it provided incentive in the form of the daily word count. I was also hoping NaNoWriMo would provide the kick I needed to start writing every day throughout the year. I signed up, filled out my author profile, and registered my vaguely formed idea of a novel. On November 1st I put fingers to keyboard and got on with it. Twenty-five days later, what I ended up with was raw, cliché-ridden, full of spelling and grammatical errors and plot holes you could drive a tank through. But I had done it—50,000 plus words and the seed of a story. This year, after much editing, the first chapter of that story won first prize for novels in the NOWW Writing Contest. My 2014 NaNoWriMo first chapter placed third in the same contest. I've taken part every year since.
Why do it? NaNoWriMo makes me write. Have I become the disciplined writer I'd like to be? No, not yet, but perhaps this year. It provides me with first drafts to struggle over throughout the rest of the year. The online word counter lets me track my progress to see how I'm doing compared to others who are taking the challenge. It's not about having the highest word count; it's about having one and adding to it.
In September I start getting excited: what will I write about this year? I brainstorm, running plots and characters through my head. In October I begin tearing my hair out trying to come up with an idea that will sustain over 50,000 words. On November 1st I sit down with my keyboard, and with luck the words will be there. One then two then three, and suddenly I've got 1000 words. I sign in and put my first word count into the counter. I've begun: I'm a participant once again. Now the challenge is to keep up the momentum.
In November I admit I am slightly distracted. Every waking thought and some sleeping thoughts are about my novel. What will happen next? Last year I agonized for days whether to murder my main character. It would play hell with the tentative ending, but it was an option. I decided against homicide. A wounded and suffering heroine would make a much longer tale than one suddenly dead, with only details of who what when and why to tidy up. Besides, I liked her. I had already done terrible things to her and I felt that murder was going too far. I know, some of you are wondering about my sanity. In November my characters kind of take over the place. So the October question is: “Who am I going to meet this year and what am I going to do to those poor souls?”
The point is to focus on character and plot. Ignore your inner editor completely. Misspellings—you can fix them in December. Write “I am” instead of “I'm” because it's two words and every word counts. I love watching my word count grow from five thousand to the half way mark and then fifty thousand. I validate my word count, and get my winner certificate.
I also enjoy the online contact with local writers. It's nice to see what other writers in the region are doing, thinking, and writing about. We have write-ins—get-togethers to meet, write, and share encouragement.
NaNoWriMo is my excuse to sit down and write. The first draft may be awful, but I've got the whole year to edit it.