NaNoWriMo in Retrospect
by Katherine Gilraine
I’ve spoken many times about NaNoWriMo as a motivation spur when it comes to my writing, just as I’ve spoken many times about how it’s something that was a direct contribution to how I became a published author.
You may look at the challenge and think, “Oh, just 50,000 words? That’s barely a first draft!” Know what, it’s damn difficult to eke out that sort of a word count on a deadline. NaNo is a contest that focuses on completing a goal, not so much on the quality of the writing. And, if you are much like many other authors, are a perfectionist, then you have an additional challenge: make your inner editor shut up.
And to do that over thirty days.
Still think it’s easy?
Up until I actually tried it, I thought it was easy as well, but the challenge of telling the story – and telling it in a way that flowed, while still making it on deadline – quickly set me straight. Believe you me, it was not easy for me to write one scene worth 800 words, and realize that I needed to write about three times as much for the day, and I didn’t have a clue as to what happened next!
Yep, that’s how I spend every November nowadays. 🙂
Let’s rewind the clock a little, and go back to 2006, when The Index Series was still no more than an idea percolating in my head, and I was dorming at Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, and had this crazy idea of, “I want to finally write my book!” My friend Candice encouraged me to put some thought into doing NaNoWriMo, and after some time waffling, I thought, “what the hey! I have nothing to lose by trying.” My RA, a good friend to this day, was all for it. My dorm people were all for it. My mother thought I was wasting my time. And this was also right after I had left my ex-husband, who was also not a fan of the fact that I wanted to write.
Back then, I was a college senior, taking 18 credits, and working mostly at night. My hours were 4pm to 5am. And I was seized by one desire and one desire only: I want to finish a book; I want to be a writer, no matter what. NaNo looked like an impossible mountain of words that I had to tackle, and believe me when I say, sociology class, which I ordinarily loved, never mattered less. I knew one thing: as soon as I climbed the word mountain, I would have a book. What it would be was another story.
So, I took a deep breath, and at 1am on November 1st, at work at the dorms, I started writing. And kept writing.
And the word count kept me going. I don’t know why, to this day, I wanted this contest so much – I’ve been writing off-beat poetry and journalism-related stuff for some time, and can still do a hell of a case brief from my college days – but I knew one thing: it’s one step closer to finishing the story. And the beautiful thing is that NaNo is incredibly encouraging when it comes to doing this sort of an endeavor. Writing a novel is something I’ve always wanted to do at that time, but I’ve had many false starts, and I knew that when the time was going to be right, I could tell the story.
I had no choice, once the clock started on November 1st, 2006. The story started to tell itself.
And, considering that from the point of completing NaNo, then going on until about Christmas of ’06 to finish up the first draft, to publication, it had taken me about three straight years to work the story into what I felt was comfortable with, motivation is a crucial factor. I cannot even tell you at how many points I considered throwing in the towel on the entire idea of telling this story. I also can’t tell you how many times Candice, and my RA, and many other friends kept telling me that the word count is waiting. However, I can tell you this for sure: it paid off. Though it felt like pulling teeth by the time I was done with Book 1′s first draft, it was worth it to know that, after years of attempting, I had finished A Book.
That, however, was also the moment that I realized that the story wasn’t done.
And so, the series was born, and every year in November, so is another manuscript.
This may be just my NaNo story, but this is exactly why I tell every aspiring author: try NaNoWriMo at least once. Word count goal or no word count goal, try it at least once. The simple fact that there is a challenge in place can produce results that you can then take and shape your story from. You never know what you are capable of until you are presented with a goal to conquer, with only yourself as an obstacle. That’s when literary magic happens.