03.12.14 // I Wrote a Novel!
Written by Sarah “SG-1″ Grant, GeekGirlCon Copy Writer
Back in 2006, about a year after I moved to Seattle, I learned about a yearly program called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.
Every November, hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe aim to write 50,000 words between 12am November 1st and 11:59pm November 30th. It started as 21 friends in San Francisco back in 1999; it went up to 140 people in 2000, and rocketed to 5,000 people in 2001. They formed as a charitable organization to build and outfit libraries in developing nations, and in 2013, there were 312,368 participants with a total count of over 50 million words.
My favorite thing about NaNoWriMo is events that go on throughout the month called “write-ins”. There is a schedule of these events (some during the day, some in the evenings, some in libraries, some in bars, and some in 24 hour restaurants and coffee shops) for each area posted on the NaNoWriMo web site. If you want to meet some interesting people, share your experiences, and possibly win little prizes (which may or may not be writing-themed), you can show up at any of those write-ins. We in Seattle can pick each other out of a crowd because Seattle NaNos carry rubber ducks with them. Yes, really. I carry an Invisible Devil Duck with me when I’m roaming in November. You find a spot where you’re comfortable, and you’re off on your writing adventure for the day/evening/night.
I wrote my first novel in 2006, typing most of it furiously in the last two weeks of November. I finished and validated my word count around 9:30pm in a little coffee shop in Kirkland, and I nearly burst into tears in public. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it! What started out as a murder mystery swiftly changed to a fantasy murder mystery, with some weird pockets of insanity throughout as I turned off my inner editor and wrote like crazy! It was very therapeutic, and apparently something I needed very badly at the time.
To be truthful, winning NaNoWriMo isn’t terribly exciting unless you’re a writer. The prize for winning? You have the right to download an icon (a different one each year) which states you’ve won.
There isn’t a publishing contract waiting for you, all tied up in a bow. You don’t get money, you don’t get fame, and chances are good you’re still months away from actually having a novel you’re willing to show to anyone. I’ve heard NaNoWriMo referred to as “speed drafting”, which makes a lot of sense: you’re writing quickly (you have to average 1,667 words per day, all 30 days, to complete your 50,000 words!), you can’t be critical of what you’re writing (it slows you down way too much), and hopefully at the end of the month you’ve got a first draft of sorts.
How do these hundreds of thousands manage to get to 50,000 words or more in 30 days?
Caffeine, and lots of it!
There have been times I’ve gotten too jittery to keep writing because of all the coffee I’ve drunk to keep my brain going strong. Some writers have an outline prepared and write methodically, chapter after chapter, until they’re done. Other writers sit down with a basic idea and just write and write and write…and then they write some more. My first novel consisted of this “write and write and write” plan. This also explains why I haven’t shown it to anyone, and why I haven’t been able to successfully edit it. It’s a mess! But it’s there, and it’s something I can point to and say, “I’m a novelist!”
Since 2006, I have won NaNoWriMo 2 more times. I can’t say what I will ever do with these speed-drafted novels; perhaps I’ll bribe one of my writer friends to look them over and make some editing suggestions. Most writers I know take bribes in the form of chocolate, books, and coffee, so I can probably work something out.
The best thing I have gotten from my NaNoWriMo association is a group of friends who meet weekly (sometimes twice per week) at various coffee shops. We’re a very informal writing group, one without rules or critique sessions. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the “Type and Gripe”, because sometimes we type, and sometimes…well, you know. But these writer friends of mine are amazing, creative, scary, exhilarating, and just plain brilliant–and they continue to let me hang out with them, which I am thankful for every time I see them. We give each other hugs, laughter, support, and some really weird story ideas, occasionally. Two of these writers have even gotten me into a role playing game, which was definitely out of my comfort zone just a couple of years ago.
If you’re interested in checking out National Novel Writing Month, head on over to the website. There are activities going on all year, including online camps in April and July, the Young Writers Program, and ongoing support from the small but dedicated team of staffers in San Francisco. March, in fact, has been unofficially designated National Novel Editing Month, or NaNoEdMo. I’m thinking of dusting off that first novel and seeing what I can do with it!
No matter what I do with my previous novels, it’s only a little over 8 months until November…and I’ve already got one heck of an idea brewing in my head. I’ll see you there!