NaNoWriMo can make or break a new author. The best way to begin any creative endeavor is to toss yourself right into the frying pan, and NaNo will help you do that.
I do have friends out there who hate the idea of drafting 50,000 words in a month, joining a group that encourages that, or supporting an ideology that doesn’t agree with them. That’s fine, to each their own.
In this post, I want to talk about the writing process as a whole, and why I think NaNoWriMo is one of the best places for a future writer to get their start.
My First Draft
I didn’t know anything about NaNoWriMo when I started drafting my first finished draft, or the several failures that preceded it from high school on.
I always wanted to write a book, but failed for any of a number of reasons. Getting bored with a story after a few weeks. Not realizing the importance of daily writing. Lack of confidence. You name it, I had it.
I’m not an English scholar. I studied physics and philosophy in college, and computer programming before that. Until finally, I reached a point where I felt a compelling NEED to write a book. I wanted to make a graphic novel called “Sword of Valhalla,” and I’d done a ton of research. I’d assembled a long drawn out plot that would span several volumes. Far too many as it turned out, and the offshore lifestyle I was leading at the time didn’t cater well to drafting comic pages.
My next time out on the rig, after working straight to get my equipment set up for work, I found a novel in my bunk while bedding down. I had all of my research material with me, and my sketchbooks had gotten crimped on the helicopter flight out. I paged through the book, and hated it from page one. My only thought was, “If this guy can do it, so can I.” It was time to pivot, and move my graphic story to words, which allow a much longer story to be told.
I had failed before, mostly trying to write stories about elite special forces groups in a science fiction environment. I have a soft spot for space marines.
As it sometimes happens, we hit a delay for our drilling program (I was on the drill ship Discoverer Deep Seas at the time, or one of her sister ships). I spent a good chunk of the day researching what it really takes to write a novel, and comparing it with my own habits. I know myself pretty well, and my own limitations.
An idea struck me, suddenly and without warning, prompted by a website encouraging me to finish my novel in 100 days or less, and they would provide the inspirational quotes to get it done.
Thinking long and hard about not only my writing, but a hundred other hobbies I’ve given up on over the years, I realized that forcing myself to do something everyday was the key ingredient in my own success. I also noted my own short attention span. I told myself that if I didn’t have a finished draft in 90 days, I’d never finish it, which was par for the course with me on any project. It all made sense, and I decided that if I only added one sentence, I would add to my story every single day.
I think it was 47 days later when I returned home, and a couple days later to wrap up the first draft, which ended up being 72,000 words and only a third of my over-arching story. I decided to split it into a trilogy. The next two months were spent on editing.
A phoenix must burn to ashes before it can be reborn anew
One look at the first page, and I was ready to toss in the towel. I wondered if one of my buddies on the rig had been screwing with my laptop and my story. The writing was awful.
I paged through the middle and noticed something in my own writing. Those 70,000 words had seen so much improvement in my own writing that I could no longer recognize thing’s I’d written only a month before! While drafting, I was also spending a good amount of time catching up on all the English Lit stuff that I had missed out on over the years. I had to look up everything, and turned to bloggers to fill in the gaps for me.
By the time I finished, my sentences were shorter, tighter, and more colorful. My vocabulary, like everything else about my writing, had improved by leaps and bounds. I decided to stick with it, and I re-wrote the story completely with fresh words.
And then it all happened again.
Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.
The above quote, which hadn’t been written yet, fits perfectly. Creating something takes a different kind of dedication.
Don’t Fear the Process
Like me, you will likely find yourself at several impasses throughout your writing, if you stick with it long enough. You’ll cut yourself on the daggers of criticism and critique, you’ll cry yourself to sleep after a literary agent or online lit nerd tears your writing to pieces, and tells you that you’ll never have the stuff. You’ll grind your teeth while finding more typos after the tenth pass through the story before finding a plot hole that requires rewriting half the book.
But you won’t ever see any of that if you never get the first draft out. This is the process that all writers go through. There will be pain in challenges that lie around every corner, but a first draft is the pivotal first step.
For me, it went something like this:
- I’ll never finish a book in 90 days, and I’ll quit.
- Oh my God, this is horrible!
- Okay, it’s better now.
- How do I write a query letter.
- “You don’t have a compelling story” from a query critique.
- “The idea is cool, but I can’t relate to the main character or get a feel for the stakes.” Lit agent.
- Let me cease working on the sequel and re-write the first book again.
- This isn’t a novel.
After over 100 query rejections, I finally realized that TSOV wasn’t a novel. It was a graphic novel series, with each chapter being one book. It was exactly what I set out to create. I gave up on it to fail at other things in my life for a while.
When I came back to writing three years later, I started fresh. I found an online writing group called Writing Challenge, and NaNo was right around the corner. It was that November that I drafted the first iteration of what would later become Incorporated First Strike, the novel I released earlier this year. That was back in 2015.
If all of this sounds depressing…
I apologize. This is the process, but there’s really only one way to experience it, and it’s to get that first draft of the first book out of your system as fast as possible. Spit it out. If it’s burning up your guts, then it’s time to vomit, and get that shit on paper.
After it’s written, then you can go about revising it, and starting your own creative journey toward being an author. The key is to stick. I spend time each day doing writing related things, even if I’m not shelling out story. I’m skimming through my TSOV folder right now (yes, I still have the novel) and there are literally 15 different versions of the query letter! Things won’t always be easy, but becoming a writer, in my opinion, requires two things as a minimum.
- Writing should be a habit, or better an addiction.
- You need to learn to sit down and do the hard work.
NaNoWriMo can get you on track to developing both of these skills. This is why I support the program, and participate every year. No matter what else is going on, I write at LEAST one NEW novel draft every November. It’s also the principle reason I wanted to encourage others by starting NaNoInspo this year.
NaNo might not be for everyone, but if you want to stop aspiring, get off your but, and finally finish that book you’ve been thinking about your whole life, November is the time to do it. NaNo will get you on track, and of course I’ll be here all month to urge you on.
So polish up that outline, win NaNo, and finish the first draft of your writing career.