My room is a bit smoky from the candle that has been burning for the last four hours, and the air smells like vanilla. My laptop is cluttered with websites about World War II, databases of common last names and Google searches that have probably put me on a high alert status with the NSA. Somewhere in the mess, Pandora and YouTube are open, and my speakers are alternating between movie soundtracks, Vera Lynn and 1940’s swing.
This is what it is like to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.
I first found out about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) through the Creative Writing Club, and after some peer pressure I ended up signing on a week late.
Surprisingly, I was barely stressed over the course of writing my novel. That in part was because I had had my dystopian story of a gay couple in the army planned out for a long time and had detailed outlines for each chapter. I also learned very quickly that chronology does not matter in NaNoWriMo situations. Whenever I had an idea for a scene or a chapter, I made a page break, gave the excerpt a title and wrote. Of course that left a lot of loose ends to tie together by the end of November, and I did scramble a little to bring everything together.
The main problem I had was my penchant for accuracy. It took a lot of intensive and suspicious Google searches to uncover authentic details about WWII weaponry, not to mention how much blood loss people can survive and where one can – and cannot – get shot and still live.
For example, did you know that the average adult can lose almost an entire soda bottle’s worth of blood and not die? Or that it takes six months for a gunshot wound to the shoulder to heal?
Basically, by the end of the month, I became very comfortable conducting rather sketchy research. I also got into the habit of frequently clearing my internet history and am now highly familiar with the writers’ catchphrase of “I swear I’m not a serial killer.”
Another issue I ran into a couple of times was writer’s block. Since I was writing anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 words a day, I often burned out or hit a wall with my creativity. To fix this I ended up listening to a lot of movie soundtracks with the lights off and my eyes closed. And when that failed to jog my muse out of her creative rut, I sometimes created casting lists for my characters or trailers for the novel in iMovie.
Sometimes though, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get rid of my writer’s block. In that case, I just went to sleep and returned to it either the next day or a few hours later. Sometimes I would start editing what I had already written, drawing inspiration from that while making sure that my plot lines and themes were consistent.
Another obstacle I faced was the question of how dark is too dark? I am a writer who in no way believes in happy endings for the protagonists. In fact, I operate by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote of “show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” Needless to say, I had to weigh my creative choices very carefully when I was writing and make sure there was a little humor somewhere.
However, the most important part of this experience stemmed from that very dilemma. I learned through NaNoWriMo that it is crucial to trust in my crazy ideas and stay true to myself as a writer. With this mentality, I proudly ended up finishing my novel two hours from the deadline on Nov. 30 with a total of 99,898 words – 73,971 of which had been written in one month. I am in the process of self-publishing the book through CreateSpace and look forward to being able to print my novel.
History of NaNoWriMo:
Despite the word national in its title, NaNoWriMo is an international event in which writers from all over the world create 50,000 word novels in November. It has been going on for 16 years, and was founded in San Francisco in 1999. It expanded dramatically after the first three years as information spread over the internet, and after several years of trying to figure out how to distribute prizes without swamping the post office and ensuring that their internet servers stopped crashing every year, NaNoWriMo has become a relatively well-oiled machine. To sign up, just go to their website and create a free account. It talks you through how update the progress of your novel and is generally self-explanatory. For more information, visit their site at www.nanowrimo.org.