As part of my series about NaNoWriMo, I wanted to go through the past five years of my experiences with NaNoWriMo to show how I tackled each year, what challenges I faced, and how I’ve grown as a writer over these five years of participation. Of course, it’s also a trip down memory lane for me to see what I remember from the early years of when I decided that I wanted to actually pursue writing as a career.
I’ve explained a little about how I found out about NaNoWriMo through Katytastic in a previous post about my writing in high school. I think I was looking through some of Kat’s most popular videos, and one of her recent ones at that point was her announcement that she was participating in 2014. Curious, I watched all of her videos about NaNoWriMo and gave some serious thought to joining. It was kind of scary, so I messaged my creative writing teacher at the time and asked what she thought of me joining the event. At that point, I was about a week away from NaNo 2014 and still had no idea what I was going to write or if I was even going to be able to write a 50,000 word novel.
My creative writing teacher replied and said that she hadn’t heard of NaNoWriMo before but that she thought it was a good idea if I thought I could do it along with classes. That small bit of encouragement was all I needed to make my account and declare that I was going to participate that year. So, three days before the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2014, I hurriedly wrote three vague outlines and chose the one that I thought would be the easiest for me to draft.
For some reason, I decided that the best genre to go with was dystopian. It was really popular at the time, and in the years when I was reading books likeThe Hunger Game and Divergent, it made sense that the kind of story I wanted to write was inspired by those books. Looking back, I definitely didn’t have the skills to write a dystopian and come up with a whole new system in which the world would work. Somehow, I managed to make an outline that made some kind of sense and excited me enough that I was counting the hours until NaNoWriMo began.
I did exactly what Kat recommended and started exactly at midnight. I wrote easily and quickly, hitting 1,667 around 1:30AM. It was such a rush for me to see the words on the screen and see that I had already hit the word count that early on in the writing game. According to my stats for that year, I didn’t write a whole lot more on that first day after hitting my word count. I think that I might have re-worked some of my outline, probably moving pieces around as I thought about what direction the story was heading in.
Day 2 was when I really pulled ahead, writing about 4,000+ words and setting me almost three full days ahead of schedule. I had seen some advice online that churning out more words early in the process would make things easier. By giving myself a solid cushion of words early on, I knew that if I slacked, I wouldn’t have to catch up as much. For the rest of that first week, I averaged around 2,200 words each day and was consistent about being a day or two ahead. I have no idea how I was able to create such a big cushion for myself, but it really came in handy and I’ve wished for that ability again in the years following.
One of the reasons why I was probably able to pull ahead so easily is because of word vomit. I just let everything flow and did my best not to let my inner editor out of her cage. Being my first time doing this, I struggled with my inner editor quite a bit as I drafted my novel. Not being able to go back and fix things as I wrote was unfamiliar to me. There were several times in which I caught myself trying to go back and edit earlier parts of the book to match what was going on later or to make changes that I thought were necessary. It was also hard not to go back and fix sentence structure or typos immediately. But after some wrangling, I was able to convince my inner editor to let me get the words out first and save the editing for when we had more time.
The other reason was that it has been so long since I was expressing myself creatively through writing. I had kept a journal for several years at that point, but it wasn’t the same as writing creatively in fiction. Taking that creative writing class in the first place was because I wanted to get back into the realm of creative writing after being out of it for at least three or four years. Opening up the door for me to write a novel was like opening a floodgate of words. They weren’t good words, but they were words. I got some of the crappy ones out so that the slightly better ones could make it into the story.
While writing this novel, I remember feeling so proud of myself for the story I had created and for how my characters were interacting. I thought I was such a good writer, and there was a particular sentence I wrote that I remember thinking was so beautiful and impactful. Looking back at it now, it really wasn’t that good. In fact, I cringed the last time I read it.
I ended up hitting 50,000 words on Day 27 and putting my novel aside for the rest of November. With 50,309 words, I somehow still wasn’t done with the story. To get closer to the end, I skipped around a bit and cut chunks from my outline because I knew that I needed to get closer to the end of the story. I’m pretty sure that I ended NaNo 2014 right smack in the middle of the last arc, where my characters break into a government facility to rescue someone. Not the best place to stop, but I was feeling burnt out at that point with being creative when it had been so long since I had done so.
NaNoWriMo 2014 wrapped up with most of a novel drafted and 50,309 words written. I very proudly won with three days to spare and the determination to participate again in the following years. Despite the burnout, I had enjoyed myself a lot and found that the writer in me had missed having an outlet. Knowing that I had it in me to write a novel did wonders for my self-esteem as a writer. So I set aside my novel, which I named Venture, and left November with the confidence that I could write more novels in the future and seriously start considering writing as a career.