It’s almost November, which means it’s almost time for 159,000 (and counting) individuals to flex their fingers and write 50,000 words in thirty days. To save you the effort of double-checking your mental math via your device’s calculator, that’s roughly 1,666 words a day. Welcome to National Novel Writing Month. Now, most people agree that 50,000 words isn’t really a novel. (Some perspective: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone clocks in at 76,944 words, while Goblet of Fire more than doubles that figure with 190,637 words.) Still, if you’re aiming for a slimmer volume, NaNoWriMo will carry you two-thirds of the way there. The point is simply to write. A lot.
Ever since I could write, I have been writing. Lower school featured a few five- or ten-paged stories (single-spaced — always single-spaced) about a sixth-grader named Cassandra who moves to Colorado or a fifth-grader whose family runs a bed-and-breakfast in Maine (I believe ghosts were involved). There were also dozens — literally dozens — of first pages of stories I didn’t have the discipline to finish. It was beyond exhilarating when, in seventh or eighth grade, I finished two 40-page short stories. They were not pretty, but they had setting, (poorly developed) characters… and a plot I’d seen through until the end. I’m not quite sure what the STEM equivalent of this is — a first website, a first robot — but completing these projects was intoxicating. A writer’s 5 or 10K, anyway.
These completed tales led me into the Era of False Starts. The Era in question was characterized by stories that I abandoned 40 pages in and a third of the way through the plot. Somewhat surprisingly, five or so years later, I still haven’t completely washed my hands of them. That is, provided I do a thorough overhaul of character development (for the first) and worldbuilding (for the second), I’d consider returning someday. It doesn’t matter if the first novels I started aren’t the first ones I finish.
I began what I’ll call Project #1 my junior year of high school (where “Project” is my somehow less pretentious and/or scary euphemism for “novel”). By the time I went to writing camp that summer, I was only eighteen pages in. (To be fair, I might have been further had my computer not eaten the original five or ten pages, which is always a morale-crusher.) The second week of the program, when we picked our focus sections, I felt no guilt about snagging the last spot in “The Six-Hour Novel.” Turning the project into an assignment saved it from the false start wasteland. If our homework was to write five pages, I would write ten.
I finished a first draft of this first novel (approximately 81,600 words) in February 2013. Project #1 took me two and a half years. It’s not “done” by any means (the first few chapters are very clearly written by a sixteen-year-old; unfortunately, this means that the general worldbuilding was also done by a sixteen-year-old), but even arriving at this point was a dream come true. What was particularly liberating was that I wasn’t writing for anyone but myself: unlike with my 5/10K stories, when I would send a few chapters at a time to my Reader, keeping the story to myself allowed me to take more risks, to think about the characters and the plot in and of themselves, rather than how my Reader would judge my decisions. I finally understood what writers meant when they said that their books were explorations of X, Y, or Z. The themes I brushed against in the first half were wholly different from the one toward which I ultimately veered.
Which brings me here, to October 28, mere days away from the looming, flashing specter of November 1. This year, for the first time, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Sadly, I already know I’m not going to win (you win if you complete the challenge.) November is a terrible time to ask college students — who are in the midst of the second round of midterms as well as the beginnings of final projects — to write an extra 1,666 words a day. Which is to say that I have a great deal of respect for my peers who actually manage it. Secretly, I’d love to be able to do it… but it’s not going to happen this year. I’m going to do a mini-NaNoWriMo instead; I’ll aim for a very modest 15,000 words, which, to be fair, is roughly 11,000 words more than I write on a monthly basis at present (not counting classwork).
Why bother with a mini-NaNoWriMo? First, because I know that if I have some sort of accountability measure, I will actually write. 15,000, while not even close to 50,000, is better than nothing. Second, because I’m itching to start something new, to dive back in. It’s been well over eight months since Project #1, and I still haven’t started another — despite the fact that I had a list of ideas that I refused to touch until I had a completed first draft of Project #1. As such, in preparation for Friday, I’ve done a small amount of worldbuilding and identified five or six characters I’ll need to at least get a plot going. I know I can’t dedicate myself to the full plunge of NaNoWriMo, but I’ve made my peace with toe-dipping. At least for this year.
NaNoWriMo advice? Thoughts on mini-NaNoWriMo? Comments!