What an amazing month November was as a new milestone in writing for me and what a difference a year makes! I first participated last year in this annual quest to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. 2008 was also a miserable failure where I think I chalked up a total of about 3,000 words before throwing in the towel. This year I not only participated, I won with my final validated total of 50,105 words on November 30th. My so-very-supportive writing group helped me celebrate Saturday and it was such a great debriefing. What were the differences this year? Only things that when you list them out would seem like cons to winning. Last year we went on a 10-day vacation where I took my laptop and even have proof I wrote while on the beach in California. This year, I worked all month at my full-time job, dealt with all the craziness of ‘normal’ life shuttling my daughter to dance and playing single mom 3 nights a week while hubby works. And on top of it all, I’m 8 months pregnant!
So what do I chalk up as my secret for winning?
First, the last year was a very emotional rollercoaster of a learning experience. I had just started being serious about writing a novel last year before beginning NaNoWriMo. Since then, I’ve written and tossed out 15,000 words of a first draft that I had gone about writing completely wrong. I’ve read books and educated myself on the how-to’s of actually being a writer. And in that process figured out I was going about it all wrong. The first draft is all about telling the story and it isn’t for anyone but the writer to ever read. Then you edit and then you let people critique because by then their critique cannot get you off-track or send you and your characters down a path you as a writer didn’t envision. It is one thing to just write and let your characters tell you the story, it is quite another to have no real sense of where your story is going and let others point you in what they think is the right direction. And, as I found out, the first draft is supposed to suck! That’s why there are so many editing stages!
Second, I set my mind to doing it and committed myself to doing it right and finishing. I applied my scientific mind to the task and analytically – as is my nature – dissected the month into workable chunks of requirements. The first week I vowed to just write everyday with no limitations just to get into the habit and get into the groove. I averaged about 600 words a day once I got started that first week. The first weekend, I had found a voice for my story and it had started to come alive. And remember the 15,000 words I had tossed? Well, now I’d come to the point where the original story line fit into the current manuscript. Of course they were written like shit (I can say that, they were my words!) and so I merely re-wrote the scenes and the material but didn’t have to think too hard about what came next. This was where I broke through and really knew I could do this thing because I was chalking up daily word counts over 2000 words and coming close to being on track based on the daily 1667 words, if written every day of the month, would get me there.
Third, I got a push of needed competition from a fellow writer. One of my writer friends who also needed a push on her manuscript but wasn’t participating in NaNoWriMo asked if I wanted to get a friendly competition going. This is her personal way of pushing past blocks and I thought, ‘what the hell, I am going to do this anyway, I might as well have someone on the journey with me’. So, we started checking in everyday to see where were both were. She’d been at her current project for about 6 months and already had more words written than I did but I quickly caught up and eventually overtook her that last week. I know it helped me to stick with it knowing if I wasn’t the first one in the morning to check in, she’d be there expecting me to tell her what I’d done and of course I wanted to look good and have something impressive to share which kept me motivated.
It came down to the final days and hours of that last weekend before the Monday night deadline at midnight where I didn’t think I was going to make it. I had writing go out the window a couple of times that previous week and going into the weekend I was still looking at needing 10,000 more words before Monday night. My big plans to get all caught up over the weekend only halfway came through and with only one day left I still needed 4200+ words. When I realized I had unthinkingly committed to a birthday party the night of my deadline, I thought all was lost. But, I cut the evening short, tucked my daughter into bed earlier than normal (but really her bedtime) and had three hours before the deadline to do the impossible. I let my character rant and rave and count to one hundred (starting in the twenties because then each number counted for two words) and all the other tips and tricks I had come across along the way to boost my word count and focused not on quality but merely on quantity. And with thirteen minutes left before the deadline I uploaded my manuscript to the validation tool and was confirmed as a winner. I even got choked up a bit sitting at my kitchen table – all alone and wanting to shout from the rooftops but unable since I’d wake the neighbors.
Is the first draft done? Not yet. Did I have to go back and edit that last big push to get myself back on track after my marathon three hours of suckage leading up to the deadline? You bet your ass. Did I take a couple of days off to rest? Oh yes and man was it nice. Am I back to writing every day? Pretty much – I’m thinking I’ll be six-days a week kind of a writer from here until it is finished. Will I do it again? Most definitely! Do I recommend NaNoWriMo? Whole-heartedly yes! It was the best thing I have ever done and now I know I have it in me and the writing world should take me serious because I can deliver!
Here’s to finishing the first draft by the end of the year and embarking on the next step of the long journey to being published. Bottom line, I am an author and for the first time ever, I am taking myself serious about that title! And I would be a complete bitch if I didn’t acknowledge the sacrifice my family made in supporting me through this crazy month. My hubby who was always supportive of me not doing normal things with him so I could write, and my daughter who even started to ask “are you writing, Mommy?” before she’d interrupt me. Without that unconditional support I wouldn’t have been successful no matter the rest!