Is it seriously November 9th already?
That can’t possibly be. You see, I haven’t even started my story for National Novel Writing Month. And I always complete National Novel Writing Month! I haven’t missed a single one in ten years!
If you think writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days is hard, writing one in twenty days must be damn near impossible. As I finally pull my head out of the haze of releasing a new book, I look at my calendar and frantically try to imagine how many words per day I have to crank out to finish on time. And then, I’m ashamed to say, a little part of me whispers maybe you shouldn’t bother at all.
The fact is, though, that NaNoWriMo isn’t really about writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
I mean, certainly it seems like it is, doesn’t it? That’s the end goal. But the real spirit of NaNoWriMo, the real benefit to undertaking this daunting writing challenge, is the exercise of writing anything at all.
Lots of writers, professional and amateur, flock to join the NaNo crowds every November, across the world. Of course, we all want to cross that finish line. But let us not forget that many of us might not have put pen to paper at all without the invigorating catalyst of this annual self-imposed challenge.
I started my first National Novel Writing Month late, as well. I joined up about a week into the race, and I had no experience whatsoever with the community or the culture of the thing. I figured for sure I wouldn’t finish…I’d get bogged down somewhere along the way and peter out altogether.
There’s no editing in NaNoWriMo.
I also broke the “rules” that year, too, by caving to my inner editor and deleting about 5000 words in the last week, because I was unable to go on without correcting a series of scenes I just didn’t believe in. That became par for the course for my first three or four NaNo seasons, as well. Always in the last week, I’d find a great big chunk of narrative, sometimes chapters long, that simply had to go.
And still, I always did end up making it past the finish line on time.
For two years in a row, I hit my 50,000 words with more than half the month still to go. I don’t know what possessed me and how I managed to write so much, so fast, and be satisfied enough with it that I counted it as good. Last year I was up until just before midnight on November 30th desperately trying to get down just enough words to validate before the contest ended.
Here’s what I have learned in ten years.
NaNoWriMo is what you make of it. It’s a chance for you, as a writer, to explore your options. Try a new plot you’ve been playing with, but were maybe afraid to embark on. It’s a chance to learn new ways to combat writer’s block, with word sprints and writing prompts and group exercises. One of my favorites is the Traveling Shovel of Death. Haven’t heard of it? It’s part NaNo challenge, part inside joke. At some point in your story, you should include a shovel. That shovel should then play a role in a death. If you haven’t included it in one of your books, I’m giving it my full endorsement. The Traveling Shovel of Death is pure NaNo gold.
A few years ago, my local NaNoWriMo admin found out I was part of the My Little Pony fandom, so he challenged me to include two of the ponies in my next NaNo scene. Sure, that sounds ridiculous. Until I tell you that the next scene I meant to write was a dark scene filled with tension, where my main character must, by sheer strength of will, push through a tide of angry demons attempting to spirit her soul away to the corners of a metaphysical wasteland. Then the idea’s not ridiculous at all; it’s patently absurd and potentially ruinous.
I did it anyway. Not in any way you’d recognize, mind you, that’s always the most fun part of incorporating challenges into a novel: finding a way to make them fit in your story, and become a part of it, through and through. You will probably never find the little ponies in my scenes of demonic battle and struggle against the forces of darkness, but now you know that once upon a time, in a NaNoWriMo community, the idea was proposed, and it became a step on the path to a completed story.
NaNo is what you make of it.
So here I am, nine days late into the month and looking at the looming challenge of gearing myself up to go anyway. I’m not worried. NaNo is not about meeting some magic number for anyone else’s benefit. It’s about challenging myself, pushing my boundaries, learning more about my stories and my style, and about how to write. NaNoWriMo is about building a skill and a story, with a drive to see just how good I can make it. And to those of you who are also starting late, or to those of you who started on time and maybe be sweating over those 50,000 words, just remember: NaNoWriMo is what you make of it, and what you take away from it, on December 1st.
….okay, so…nine days in, maybe I am a little worried…
When she isn’t visiting the worlds of immortals, demons, dragons and goblins, Brantwijn fills her time with artistic endeavors: sketching, painting, customizing My Little Ponies and sewing plushies for friends. She can’t handle coffee unless there’s enough cream and sugar to make it a milkshake, but try and sweeten her tea and she will never forgive you. She moonlights as a futon for four lazy cats, loves tabletop role-play games and can spend hours on end sketching characters and scenes in her secret notebooks.
Fleshlings and darklings… Rune-weavers and demons… When you walk in the land of the Reaper, who will survive?
Serenity Walker has cast runes for as long as she can remember. Her teachers call her a prodigy and her secret studies hold the key to unlimited potential. Once an orphan left on an old woman’s doorstep, Serenity finally belongs. But when her mentor is murdered right in front of her, her hopes of a home die with him.
Her quest for vengeance leads her to a dangerous deal with a demon. Armed with its dark power and her talent with the runes, she blazes a trail across the lands where ranchers and railroad men are kings, where the prevailing law is the law of the gun. To find the man who reshaped her past, Serenity offers up her future. She’ll face a world where weavers are hunted down to be hanged, whipped, or burned alive…but she won’t face it alone.
As Serenity’s mission takes her farther than most weavers are willing to go, she’ll have to decide who her true enemy is: the wicked men of the world or the powerful demon inside her.