NaNoWriMo 2016 - Novel Writing in College

Starting NaNoWriMo for the third time in a row, this was the first year I tried to balance writing with college life. I knew that it was something I wanted to continue when college began, but I wasn't sure how much time I would be able to commit to NaNoWriMo. This was the first year that I spent mostly playing catch-up, having realized that I really suck at making time for writing. However, this year stands out because it's the first time I wrote a main character who wasn't white, thus beginning my exploration into diversifying my writing and the character pool I choose from.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo when October rolled around and tried to spend the month working on an outline. The story wasn't entirely fleshed out in my mind yet, but I knew enough of my premise to slowly work on what I wanted the story to be like.

This year, I was inspired by a historical figure who was brought to my attention through social media. There was a brief period of time in which I kept seeing this woman appear on my various social media feeds, and after some research, I decided to go with it as the premise for my story.

It was also the first time I wrote something that involved a ton of pre-planning because it was also a heist novel. Part of my research for the book involved watching Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 13 for the first time. I had to think seriously about the construction of buildings, the technology required, the elaborate process in which a heist needs to be executed, and how much detail goes into planning one heist, much less three.

Now, if I had really taken enough time to research and plan, this whole process would probably have been easier. I would have come up with a more specific, executable plan for each of the heists. Even in the process of writing out the basic premise of the book and how each heist would go down, I realized that I hadn't dedicated enough time to iron out all the details. Sure, it was the first draft of a story, but I could have brainstormed more instead of leaving it to my future self to figure it out as I wrote. This planning stage was when I realized that because of my workload in college, I had to spend more than just a month thinking about the pillars of a story.

I barely finished my outline before NaNoWriMo began. In fact, since college has started, I've never gone into NaNoWriMo with a complete outline. I've actually had to outline as I write during the month because I don't actually set aside enough time to plan out a whole novel verbally. This was also when I learned that I tend to pants my outlines more than I thought.

My college career marked the beginning of my realization that as much as I wanted to believe that I'm a hardcore planner, I'm very much also a pantser during the planning stages. If you're unfamiliar with these terms, it refers to how much planning takes place before the writing of the novel begins. Pantsers tend to know the general idea of the story, but don't plan the direction they're going in or write an outline. They simply write and see where things go, knowing that there are certain things they'll change during the revision process. On the other hand, planners go through most details before they get to the actual writing of their novel. They'll write outlines, character profiles, do research, and create timelines so that all the information they need for their story is all in one place and already planned out.

November started and I was already behind. I think I wrote less than a hundred words on the first day, and from then on, I was never on track. In fact, I was so far behind that I wasn't sure how I would ever catch up. The more time I spent with the story, the more I wondered if I knew enough and had enough content to turn it into a book. The further along I got in the month, the more stressed I became about getting this project done.

My saving grace was Thanksgiving Break. I churned out over 7,000 words during break and decided that I was absolutely going to win. Once I made up my mind, I cleared out all my homework for the rest of the week and chose to spend 50+ hours solely working on my novel. I wrote 17,250 words on November 30th and won with about 20 minutes to spare. It was the first time and only time I've cried after winning NaNoWriMo, making it one of the most memorable wins I've ever had.

The end of this round of NaNoWriMo showed me just what I was capable of as a writer. Not only did I learn that I was capable of writing that many words in a day, it also taught me that I could write out of order when it came down to the wire. What helped me win was choosing to write scenes that I was more excited about, getting me to the final word count faster than I would have been able to if I had followed my outline. That did make me deviate from my outline a little, but I think everything worked out fine in the end.

This being the first year of me writing novels in college, it marks the beginning of me learning a lot more about my skills as a writer. Writing like this while attending classes, doing homework, working, and keeping up with extra-curricular and social circles isn't easy. My first year of doing this taught me just how much dedication I have to this event and how much I'm willing to do to hit that 50,000 word goal.

Was it all worth it? Was it worth my pinky not working properly the next day and how little sleep I got? Of course! Did it teach me not to procrastinate on my writing in the future? Absolutely not. NaNoWriMo this year really tested me resolve to write a novel, and it continues to do so. Not in a bad way. It makes me ask myself how badly I want this. And if I really want it that badly, I'mg going to get my words in and get the novel done. That's the biggest lesson I could ever learn from each passing year - just how much I want this.

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