First of all, congrats to the winners of NaNoWriMo 2014! You made it! You survived!
Now for everyone else, you may be wondering what NaNoWriMo is. If you’ve heard someone talking about NaNoWriMo in the past month you’ve probably wondered what all the fuss was about.
NaNoWriMo is the short form for National Novel Writing Month. To win, a person has to write at least 50,000 words in the month of November. The story doesn’t have to be finished, it can even be hand-written, but it needs to be at least 50,000 words. It’s for everyone who has even thought about writing a novel and needed a kick in the butt to start doing it.
What does 50,000 words look like? Well mine is about 100 pages in Microsoft word with size 12 font, and according to nanowrimo.org it’s about the length of The Great Gatsby. That is a lot of writing all at once but spread over 30 days that’s only about 1,667 words per day, four hundred words longer than this blog post. It’s a difficult but doable goal for everyone, even people with busy lifestyles. The trick is you have to write every day. The first week will be a breeze, you’ll be happily writing and then the second week comes along and you start making excuses, the plot bunnies scamper away and the writer’s block comes on like the flu. Anyone who has tried to break a habit or develop a habit knows this all too well. You just have to keep at it.
It only took me four years to get there. I first heard about NaNoWriMo in 2010 and as I love to write I immediately signed up. I made it to 2746 words and quit. I gave up because I had entered week three and in my mind there was no way I was going to make it. The same thing happened in 2011 and 2012. Last year I made it to just over 8000 words before I gave up so I was determined I would do it this year.
This year I won NaNoWriMo with 50,110 words in 28 days.
My story is only half-written and after a weekend off to celebrate I’m back at it in hopes of writing something worthy of publishing. I have something I feel is worth publishing.
I set out to write a story with absolutely no ideas in mind. I had no character names, ideas or settings in my brain when I first stared at that blank manuscript. Originally I thought I’d write fanfiction; I had plans for an epic crossover piece between Doctor Who and the Young Ones but I quickly realized I couldn’t commit to that for that long. Then I thought maybe go with science fiction, thinking I could write my own time travel story or maybe something to do with aliens picking up a kid and raising him as their own. That wouldn’t work, that was silly; although I would adore reading a story like that, I couldn’t write it. I was back to square one.
I remembered a lesson an English teacher in high school had tried to instill in us; write about what you know, so I started there. My main character became first: a 35-year-old woman who was raised in a small Nova Scotia town with dreams of going to the United Kingdom. Gee, wherever did I get that idea? Rather than writing her at that age I went back and started her as a 16 year old, that age seemed like more fun. Suddenly I had a character.
Earlier this year I had begun listening to different types of music and beginning to find I really liked early punk music like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. A friend had given me a punk mixtape just after Gallifrey One in February (the best Doctor Who convention ever) and I had been listening to it on repeat almost every morning on my way to work. I was starting to branch out from it when November rolled around. I decided my unnamed character would be really into punk rock; she became Sydney, Syd for short who would fall in love with a guy named John. This character trait gave me a great reason to dive in and start listening to as much as I could. I read all I could about the different streams of Canadian, American and British punk music in the 70s and very early 80s and how different bands influenced each other. I wanted to know as much as my character would know and suddenly I found I fell in love with it all just like she did. She started to develop into a weird version of me as if I’d had access to the bands I was now listening to back in high school.
I only had thirty days to get this done which meant I couldn’t read everything. So I started to reach out to friends that I knew who were knowledgeable in the subjects I didn’t know much about. Everyone I spoke with was more than happy to help me. My character had Dutch relatives so I asked a friend about names and familiar terms that may exist in Amsterdam. I asked about the transit systems in present day Manchester versus what was in place in 1995 when part of the story is set. I asked everyone who even remotely liked punk rock for recommendations of who to listen to and listened to everything I could get my hands on just like Sydney would. It’s amazing how willing friends are to talk about things they love and know. If you ask the right questions you can tap into years of knowledge that we all accumulate because we obsess and become passionate about certain things.
I started to realize that I didn’t talk to other people about their passions nearly enough. When I did I learned so much more about my friends and co-workers. In return friends and coworkers wished me luck, encouraged me, asked me how the story was progressing; then I felt I had people to be accountable to when I didn’t want to write. I’m sure if you’ve ever read a weight loss or quit smoking blog all these elements will seem very familiar to you. I let this writing touch every aspect of my life.
I can’t recommend NaNoWriMo highly enough, but you don’t have to wait until November and you don’t have to write. Pick a month and aim to write 50,000 words in that month, draw thirty pictures, write a blog post a day but just do something. Pick a topic that has always interested you and aim to learn as much as you can to build it into a story. I can only hope to repeat this experience until Sydney’s story has been told and I hope someone will read this and realize they have a Sydney of their own waiting to enlighten them about an aspect of their life into which they’ve been afraid to delve. I hope to be able to plug my own book on this very blog someday soon.
Do you have a hobby, a genre of music, maybe a comic book series you’re just waiting to get into? Leave a comment.
Until then enjoy some Clash and Sex Pistols: