You’ve had this idea rolling around your head for a while now for a book you’d like to read, and you keep wishing your favorite author would write it. In my experience, you’re going to have to write it yourself, or it will never happen. This is because your favorite author can only write so fast, or, as in the case of several of my most respected authors, they might be dead. Dead authors rarely publish new books, unless they are ghost writers. (heh heh.) From what I can see, most authors don’t live beyond 100 years of age, so there you go–if you want that book, you’re going to have to write it yourself.
My first NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2010, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz Lieber might write if he were still alive (and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms). You see, I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Lieber tales, and I had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples a requirement for survival.
What I actually produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written, but within the uneven plot and frequently overblown dialogue it had the bones of a good story.
My addiction to NaNoWriMo began innocently, as all good addictions do: A young writer in the Philippines whom I had met through a gaming website mentioned he was going to do this writing challenge. It was a worldwide thing where hundreds of thousands of people actually began writing a novel on November 1 with the intention of having it finished by November 30. The catch was, you couldn’t start until 12:01 am on November 1st, it had to be at least 50,000 words long, but it could longer than that if you needed it to be. And, you had to have it validated by 11:59 PM on November 30th to win the coveted winners goodies.
My friend challenged me to enter, and not sure I would really be able to do this crazy thing, I did. He said all I had to do was write 1,667 words a day, which I felt I could do. I figured the worst that could happen was that I would fail to get the word count. In the past, fear of failure had never stopped me from making my life more complicated, so of course I went out to the national website and signed up. I chose the handle dragon_fangirl.
At 6:30 a.m. on November 1, 2010, I looked at my laptop and had no idea what to do. Then it came to me: Just write the first line:
There was a cabin in the woods.
Well, that wasn’t exactly literary brilliance, but it wasn’t too terrible, and it gave my idea little more form. I just began telling the story as it fell out of my mind. To my surprise, I discovered my word count averaged 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. By day fifteen I knew I would have no trouble getting the 50,000, and by November 21 I had attained the winning number of words.
At the 68,000 word point, I had completed my rollicking tale of snark and medieval derring-do. Of course, it was completely unpublishable, but I didn’t know that until later.
What I did know, was that I had written a complete novel, and told a story that I would have wanted to read. Three years later I realized all it needed was rewriting, editing, revising, rewriting, and putting in a drawer, never to be seen again.
However, out of the wreckage of that book came the story of Huw the Bard. You never know what characters you will need later, so killing them when you get stuck for a plot point is not really wise.
One rule they tell you at NaNoWriMo is never delete, and don’t self-edit as you go along. This is all strictly stream-of-consciousness, write it the way you think it. That was hard for me, but I did get into the swing of things eventually.
When I was out lurking on the various threads on the national website, I discovered a contingent of writers who were not trying to write a book that could be published. For them, this was a game they wanted to win at any cost, and their goal was to see how high their word count could get.
One suggestion from them for increasing your word count was to use no contractions.
Let’s be clear: I do NOT recommend this. If you ever want to publish your manuscript, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make it readable if you do that.
My rules for NaNoWriMo:
- Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
- Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write, and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to see happen in that story.
- Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
- Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
- Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
- Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, draw a line at the bottom of the page and start a new story, in the same manuscript. You can always separate the stories later, and that way you won’t lose your word count.
- Validate your word count every day.
These are the novels I have written during the month of November since 2010:
- 2010 Billy’s Revenge (published 2011 as the Last Good Knight, has since been unpublished and will remain that way)
- 2011 The Bard’s Tale, which was published in 2013 as Huw The Bard.
- 2012 Neveyah 3, which was published in July 2016 as The Wayward Son.
- 2013 Valley of Shadows, which was published May of 2016 as Valley of Sorrows.
- 2014 The Seventh Space, still under construction, may not be a novel after all.
- 2015 November Tales – 42 short stories, totaling 107,000 words. Included in this mess were ten truly awful poems, along with chapters 7 thru 11 of Bleakbourne on Heath, an ongoing serial, published 2015-2016. That serial is now past the mid-point and will end in the spring of 2017.
- 2016 November Tales 2016 – 30 Days of Madness and Pot Pies – nothing written yet, but I will hit the keyboard at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st, and begin churning out as many short stories, flash-fictions, drabbles, poems, and chapters of Bleakbourne as my feeble fingers are able to do.
If you should choose to enter this highly addictive, adrenaline rush of a contest, go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up! Pick your name, get your author profile started, and look up dragon_fangirl (that’s me). Add me as your writing buddy and I will be part of your writing posse, cheering you on when you need a morale boost.