November is National Novel Writing Month, when people all around the world try desperately to write a 50,000 word (175 page) novel in just thirty days. It started in 1999 with 21 participants, 6 of whom crossed the word count finish line by midnight on November 30th. In 2008, NaNoWriMo had 119,301 participants and 21,683 winners. Several authors have had their NaNo novels published, including Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants).
I first encountered NaNoWriMo in 2001. Over the summer I had been struggling to write, and after the attacks on September 11th, I found myself struggling to care about writing. I was in such a state of shock and grief that even after things slowly began getting back to normal — TV shows returning, people talking about mundane things again, doing things other than just sitting, numb, watching images of devastation — I was still having trouble sleeping and eating. And I wasn’t writing. I tried, but I felt like there was nothing I could say that was worth saying. I didn’t have any insight into life or human behavior, and why should I or anyone else care about a bunch of made-up people and their made-up problems? But I also didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t a politician or a soldier. Writing was my way of dealing with the world, so when someone on a writing list I belonged to posted the link to NaNoWriMo — on October 29th no less! – my friend Dawn and I threw caution to the wind and signed up. And for the first time in a long time, I was excited about writing.
I wrote about a woman who, reeling from the attacks, had lost her way in life and was trying to find it again. The beginning is more like a memoir than fiction, though some minor details are changed. The real fiction starts when she takes a road trip with her friend, trying to find herself. She was able to do what I couldn’t – run away, and find the space and time to begin to heal.
That year, I finished NaNo with 50,337 words on November 29th. When I was a freshman in college I wrote the last third of a novel during finals, so I knew I could write fast, but not that fast. It was such a thrill to accomplish something of that magnitude, even if what I wrote would never see the light of day. I participated in NaNo again in 2003 and every year since 2005. I didn’t participate in 2002 or 2004 because one of the rules of NaNoWriMo is that you have to write a brand new story, from scratch (you can plan it out ahead, which is what I’m doing with Kira – more on that next time) and I was working on pre-existing stories, but I’ve done it every year for the past few years because it’s such a boost. I’ve managed to eke out 50,000 words each time, although one year I ended up doing the bulk of my writing over Thanksgiving weekend, so not only can I write 50,000 in a month, if you push me hard enough I can do it in a week! Last year I wrote a very rough first draft of my historical novel Lia (which I’ll have to talk about at some point) and this year, as mentioned above, I’m planning to work on Kira. So for the rest of October I’m going to be working on fleshing out the plot, with the help of First Draft in Thirty Days, so that hopefully I will be ready to go on November 1st. With enough hard work and persistence, maybe someday my name will be added to the list of published authors who wrote their book during NaNoWriMo.