On Writing: My First NaNoWriMo Experience

Um. Ah. Um. Ah.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, click.



This is me debating whether or not to share my latest challenge and adventure with you. I'm still undecided it's a good idea but here we go anyway.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is a month long international literary adventure run in November by a non-profit organisation called the Office of Letters and Light. It is their mission to encourage creativity in the world by getting children and adults writing. Signing up to NaNoWriMo with its commitment to 50,000 words in 30 days is only one of their brilliant initiatives. It is called a "race" and it certainly feels like it at times with an average daily word count of 1667 required to keep the pace. However, don't expect a rub down or shiny medal at the finish line, the only prize awaiting you at the end of it is the knowledge that you did it and that you now have a 50,000 word novel to your name. Or rather a 50,000 word first draft. Or in my case, 50,000+ words of short stories in draft. Yes, I'm what is known in NaNo-terms as a "Rebel".

To some this may feel like being short changed. To me, this is nothing short of a small miracle and a prize I'd take over a medal any day of the week.

I have started tens if not hundreds of stories in my lifetime but have failed to finish one. There are many reasons why but they are all excuses. Writing words under the watchful eye of NaNoWriMo has helped me think more about meeting word count goals than coming unstuck over the usual obstacles; self-doubt, holes in my plot, faults in my writing and not having enough time. The online community created by NaNoWriMo is also incredibly effective and supportive. In addition to the constant churning of new encouraging tweets and inspiring blog posts being thrown out there, you are surrounded by other writers - complete strangers - only too willing to urge you to reach the finish. And then when you read about sleep deprived single mothers of four and terminally ill writers winning NaNoWriMo despite all their own odds, you are left with no choice but to pick up your bag of excuses and flush it down the toilet.

So what has my NaNoWriMo journey been like? Well, yesterday I validated my "novel" at 53545 words; my most favourite number in the whole wide world.

In the stories I have written I have visited 14 countries on 21 different journeys with the 39 characters I have created of various natures and personalities. Giving depth to these characters has been the most challenging and most rewarding element to my NaNoWriMo experience so far. I have finally learnt what it means to be led by them, to metaphorically sit back and watch them take over your story; it's the strangest and sweetest and scariest sensation. To give you a brief breakdown of what the month felt like - and apparently mine follows a very common pattern - it was like this...

Week One: I nervously put off starting until late on Day One but after that the words flowed and I realised with a shock "My golly gosh goodness, this is FUN!"

Week Two: Life started to get in the way and I lost my track with the plot of one of my stories, I fell behind with my daily word count targets and started to worry...

Week Three: On Day 17 I was tired and disillusioned. I sat down and realised I had a choice - Do or Die, Fight or Flight, Write or Wrong - so I pushed everything else to the side for one day - work, emails, blog, my boyfriend and I did, I fought and I wrote. 6200 words to be exact. I stayed ahead of my target word counts every day thereafter.

Week Four: I hit 49,518 words on Day 25 and felt strangely uncomfortable about finishing so I put it off for a day! I felt a very convincing fear that the whole experience will turn into an anti-climax once I finished. I'm happy to say it hasn't; it's more a case of now comes the hard work and I'm getting myself ready for that.

I have laughed at my own words, cried at my characters' fates, cringed at my terrible prose and felt self-doubt and self-pride in equal overwhelming quantities. I am elated that I have finished this first draft, but at the same time I felt a strange sense of doom because of what comes next; editing and rewriting. I fear it is a process that will make November's NaNoWriMo pale into a jolly romp in the literary park by comparison.

One part of NaNoWriMo that I know I will continue to use and benefit from is that of setting goals. I think the reason that I met this particular deadline was because it was realistic and because I was prepared - physically, mentally and logistically - to meet it. So in order to do my determination justice there will be more goals and more deadlines and perhaps to see them through I will threaten myself by sharing more of these stories and their journey on this blog. You - and I - have been warned!

And who knows maybe one day I'll share the finally finished product with you...

UPDATE August 2013 - Here it is... Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel! YAY!

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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