I think that NaNoWriMo 2015 was the year that I began to understand genre as a writer and discovering where I wanted to fit into that. As someone who has always been fascinated with spies and mysteries, I knew that I wanted to try writing about something along those lines eventually. When October rolled around, I decided that I would try to write a story about spies in the most generic way possible.
Because I had more time to prepare in 2015, I actually took the time to write an outline and some really poor character profiles. I think my outline took place entirely on sticky notes that I could move around as I pleased. The method worked in theory, but not in execution. Having my outline on a bunch of sticky notes somehow led me to refer to it less and cause me to make up the story as I went along.
I’m sure that if I looked for it somewhere in my files, I could find the character profiles I wrote for this novel. Many other writers talk about how important it is to get to know your characters before writing the novel. It affects the voice you write in, what your characters do, and how they approach the situations you throw them into. I didn’t think it was something that really applied to me, but I tried it anyways because other writers said to do so. That left me with really badly written profiles for a couple of characters and barely anything for the rest of my characters. It was just a jumble of things I wanted my character to be, rather than thinking about what was actually best for my character.
I was super excited to participate this year because I had already done it once and won. The winner’s rush was still there. Something about seeing those words appear on the screen and knowing that the story was coming together to some extent was exciting. Knowing that I could write a novel in 30 days was even more exciting. Doing NaNoWriMo was pushing me as a writer and encouraging me at the same time. I didn’t have any more excuses not to write a novel, and I found that I actually enjoyed fast-drafting more than I enjoyed drafting at a normal pace.
Once midnight hit, I wrote until I hit 1,667 words and went to bed feeling accomplished and happy. I spent the first three days on track, waiting a little to pull forward and give myself some leeway with writing. 2015 was the only year that I never fell behind on my word count because of the huge lead I gave myself.
Writing this book also felt easy. I had been itching to write something that would play on my love of mysteries for ages, so getting to put a mystery into this story made it really fun. Even now, I’m not sure what genre this is called specifically. I would call it a mystery, but it also has several elements of a contemporary. So I guess I’ll make up a genre and call it a mystery contemporary?
This book had more action scenes than my last book, and it was here that I discovered how much I enjoyed writing action scenes. I wasn’t very good at them when I wrote this book, but that never stopped me from writing cringey action scenes that last anywhere between half a page to a full page. There was something so fun about writing fight scenes that I never thought about before. It also strangely put my skills as a dancer to the test because I suddenly had to choreograph fight scenes in my head and explain it in words. Explaining it turned out to be the hard part.
What I really loved about this book was that it was the first time I wrote a male protagonist who wasn’t supposed to be generically strong. The love interest for this book was softer and dorky and clumsy, making him pretty different from the love interest I wrote the year before. Getting to do this was an interesting experiment to see what exactly would change in my writing when I had a more unconventional male love interest, and I really liked it. It turns out that I prefer writing softer male characters than the generic strong guy with a soft side that he only reveals to his love interest. I also liked that I got to play with writing a male character who wasn’t afraid to express his feelings and be vulnerable.
This was also the first year that I wrote something with a hint of a romance, though I don’t remember it developing into anything official. I wasn’t sure about my skills with writing a romance yet, so I knew that I wanted to try something that was a little more understated. The intent was still to have a romance, but not to make it super obvious. I don’t think I did the romance very well at all, but it was a good thing for me to try and see what I could write when I wasn’t focusing on building a romance.
I somehow hit a really strong writing streak on Day 21 and wrote 9,000+ words that day, pulling me so far ahead that I was able to win NaNoWriMo on Day 23. It was the earliest I ever won NaNoWriMo and probably will be only time I win that far in advance. The difference was that this time, I continued writing until the last day of NaNoWriMo and finished with almost 60,000 words. Once again, I wasn’t done with the story and still had more to finish (spoiler: I’m never done with my story by the end of NaNo). Finishing it took a few months of being away from the book before I could go back to it and brainstorming the best way to end the book.
Getting to the end of NaNoWriMo with more words than I thought I could write in a month was super encouraging. I knew that the novel wasn’t done yet, and I knew that it wasn’t the best, but it was something I wanted to revisit in the future. The writing experience in 2015 was different from 2014 because I could tell that I had grown as a writer. It still wasn’t my best work or a great draft, but I could see the progress I had made from the previous year. Just being able to tell that I had grown made all the difference to be as a young writer. It was also around this time that I began to think about pursuing publication, though I didn’t really have much of an idea of how to go about that just yet. All I knew was that after writing a second novel, I definitely wanted to be traditionally published in the future and that it was my goal to get to a point where I could be a published author.