I Wrote a Novel in 30 Days… Now I’m Doing It Again

Two days in to NaNoWriMo 2019, I’m 5,325 words down on a goal to write 50,000 words in 30 days. 10% — that’s something to celebrate already I suppose, but the first week is the easy part. I know what’s ahead. Which is why I’m publicly disclosing my intention to write a shitty first draft of a novel this month. Apparently I’m 78% more likely to finish it by telling a friend. I like to think I’m increasing that percentage by telling the internet.

2012 was the first year I attempted this masochistic madness. I finished that shitty first draft, dammit. And you know what? It’s still pretty shitty, even after some reworking.

Over the next two years, I tried two more times but didn’t hit the goal for reasons that are probably more obvious to people reading this than were to me at the time. I didn’t like failing. A few years later and hopefully wiser, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I much prefer to start things than to finish them. I love the excitement and adrenaline in the early stages of creativity, when imagination is the pilot and I’m not responsible for where we’re flying. Things that feel like a chore are an energy suck, but the fact remains that there is power in this exercise no matter how much of a chore it will inevitably become.

The next month will go something like this: the 1st week, ideas will be rapid fire; brushing my teeth, taking a shower, and driving familiar routes will open creative space for so many ideas that my voice memo app will get more use than it does in a year; then there will be a 2nd week slump when I begin to dislike the character I’ve created with all of her neurosis and afflictions, and I will have to acknowledge that they are sprouting from my own subconscious; a plot will somehow take shape in week 3 through a combination of stubbornness, ego, and pride; and at long last, at the end of week 4 I’ll have something like a novel. Hopefully.

I wanted to repost the blog piece I wrote years ago about finishing that first novel to remind myself of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this venture, but I guess not everything lives on the internet forever. Well, I if I supposedly learned it then, I must have internalized something, so here is what I remember:

  1. I (you… this is true for you too) have everything I need to write the best, worst, or anywhere in between novel right now. There is no amount of life experience or knowledge or wisdom that determines my level of readiness. You are living a story– so you can write one.
  2. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easy. Mostly, like with all writing, I just have to sit down and do it.
  3. It’s okay not to know where the story is going. The story will come out, for better or for worse, if I just keep writing.
  4. Write a ton of words up front to cover my ass when I inevitably have to miss a day  or two.
  5. When I’m done for the day, write down the things I want to write next. And then don’t be afraid to abandon those “great ideas” the next time I sit down.
  6. Write with others and share what what I write. Ask them for what is memorable. Ask them what about my style drives them crazy.
  7. Use it as an exercise and a way to center a writing practice in my life rather than a destination somewhere in particular. People don’t run a marathon for any accolade other than to have a goal and reach it… and maybe a little for bragging rights.
  8. Write the whole time. The words should be forming on the page from left to right motion not the other way around. Avoid that ‘delete’ button.

That first year I finished 50,000 words, I was living in a studio in a house converted to apartments in Sullivan’s Gulch. I told my neighbor who rented the studio above me that I was attempting NaNoWriMo. After work the following day, I came home to find he had taped a little notes to my door:  “Write on, writer.”

I never want to forget that story. Writers who write in community with others and with encouragement from loved ones and near strangers continue to write. Without expecting joy or ease or traditional versions of success, there is liberation and refuge on a page. The question is whether or not that I’ll feel as sentimental or optimistic at 25,000 words.

Next month, the result. 🙂

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