Ahh, the most recent year and the one in which my roommate/best friend was one of the most crucial instruments for me to finish my novel. Something about this year was really different for me, and I was having a much harder time than usual getting my novel done. But since I had done this for four years already, I knew how to motivate myself to get my fifth novel out and on the page.
The idea for this story came about from a short story I wrote during the fall of 2017, when I was taking Writing Fiction. One of the prompts we had for that class was to write a mythology retelling, and I decided that it would be interesting to look at mythology from my own culture. Seeing as there’s a lot of stuff out there, I tackled and twisted what I was most familiar with and perhaps one of the most popular myths for China, the dragon.
Keep in mind, when I say that I’m Chinese, I don’t mean I come from Mainland China. My ancestors did, but I was born in Singapore, so there’s a distinction for me because I’m Singaporean-Chinese. That literally has nothing to do with this blog post or the story I chose, but I always feel the need to make the distinction because it’s important to me and I wanted it out there.
I had a really rough idea of what was going to happen in the story and basically no outline when I started this draft. My roommate asked me what the story was about, so I went on this 30 minute talk about the entire plot of the story. It helped me figure stuff out as I wrote, but it wasn’t super clear in my mind in terms of details. I had things that needed to be fleshed out and I still had characters that I needed to get to know. Despite creating a NaNoPrepMo list, I barely got anything done on that, and I definitely felt the effects of it as I was writing.
I knew going into this year that it was going to be difficult to find the time to write. For the first time, I was working two jobs that amounted to 20 hours a week, had extracurriculars, a full class load, and was nursing a broken heart from a relationship that ended earlier in the semester. All of that combined to make for a really unmotivated writer. So to force myself to finish, I bought my winner’s shirt in advance so that I couldn’t lose or else it’d be really awkward for me to own the shirt and have to explain that I didn’t win but still had the shirt. That ended up being one of the best decisions I made all semester because it came back to push me really hard to finish this novel.
At midnight, I started writing and kept going until I finished the first chapter. I don’t know why I do this, but every time November 1st rolls around, I have to write until I hit the word count, and that usually has to be the first chapter. If the chapter is done before I get to 1,667 words, I will literally keep writing until I hit that goal. That’s just been a thing since freshman year, the first chapter has to be that day’s word count.
And then my writing schedule got really messed up. There were many days where I didn’t write at all, and then sometimes I’d catch up by about a thousand words. So by the last week of November, I was ready to quit. I had given up and I was so ready to quit. I knew I wasn’t able to catch up with how much work I had and how much I was behind by. I kept telling myself that I needed to because I already had the shirt.
The last week of November was when I really had to decide if I was going to finish my novel and try to win for a fifth year in a row. I had decided to give up a few days before the end and announced it to my roommate. She turned around to remind me that I already owned the winner’s shirt and that I had won in the past with only a couple days left in the month. When I said that I was significantly more behind this year, encouraged me to at least try hitting the goal. If I tried, then I could at least say that I tried and wasn’t able to do it, rather than giving up.
I thought about this for a few hours and decided that it was worth the try. With three days left in November, I got ready to write until my fingers stopped working.
November 29th and 30th were whirlwinds. I barely remember anything that I did in those two days. I think I wrote about 9K words on the 29th, moving me closer to 50K. But the real test was writing on the 30th. The month ended on a Friday, and with the way my classes were scheduled that semester, I had three back-to-back classes that day that ended around 1pm. Once I was out of class, I sat down in my dorm lounge with some food, a blanket, water, my charger, and my laptop.
11 hours to win. I spent almost all 11 of those hours in the lounge, with only a short break for dinner. I’ve never listened through my NaNoWriMo playlist that much in a single day. My fingers typed. I took short breathers every hour or so. People came in and out of the lounge, some confused as to why I was still sitting in the same position hours later. After getting dinner, I moved to one of the tables, where I stayed for the rest of the night. My Instagram story got updated every few hours as I was trying to meet the word count goal. My RA even came in and tossed chocolate at me so that I’d have the energy to continue.
In the last couple of hours, I was really starting to feel the effects of writing for 11 hours. The first several hours turned out content that was surprisingly decent. But again, since I had barely put any effort into this book as I was preparing, I had to outline bits and pieces as I went along. Somewhere along the 6 or 7-hour mark, I gave up on that and just wrote from what I knew was in my head. And the longer I wrote, the harder it was to get my fingers to respond.
By the time I got to the last two hours, I was really struggling to feel my left pinky and ring finger. It always ends up being my left hand, even though I’m right-handed. I’ve just noticed that with the way I type, my right pinky and ring finger rarely touch the keyboard. So, with two fingers slacking, I forced myself to write through the rest of the night. Somewhere along the line, my roommate came and sat with me while I wrote. And to make things a little easier on myself, I wrote a huge backstory that I knew would get cut during revision. I wrote a weirdly long explanation of everything that happened after the book ended, even though it wouldn’t make it into the final draft either. I think there was also some kind of tangent I went on about a character’s personal life that I just needed to get down for the sake of words.
Around 11:15pm, I broke 50K and was able to validate my novel. I won for the fifth year in a row, having written 21,986 words in a single day. It’s marked as my wordiest day on my NaNo profile. I officially broke my record of most words in an hour (previously 2K) by writing a little over 3K words in an hour at one point. I had to average about 2K words an hour to finish by midnight, and because I hit my goal early, I ended up averaging closer to 2.5K words an hour. It definitely marked the fastest I’ve ever written anything, and I have yet to be able to get back up to that point with other writing assignments or blog posts after that.
Despite all the frustration, procrastination, and struggling in 2018, I’m really glad that I pushed through to the end. Every time I procrastinate and still manage to win, it proves to me that I’m capable of this. Don’t recommend ever doing that, but it’s worked for me for three years.
Being the first year that I’ve written an urban fantasy, I know that I’ll have a lot of work to do on it. In all honesty, my writing/drafting life has been non-existent, but I really hope to change that over summer. It won’t be with this novel, but I’m working on stuff in my head and have already come up with a few changes and solutions for the next draft of this book. I know that this is a story I have to tell, and it’s a story I want out in the world. Might take me some time, but it’ll get out there.
So, 5 years later, I think I might have finally gotten to where I need to be as a writer.