Saturday, April 16, 2011

N Is For NaNoWriMo

If you're a writer, who has spent any significant amount of time online, you've probably heard of NaNoWriMo. But then again, maybe you haven't. I (in my usual behind the times style) didn't know what it was until two years ago when a friend from high school asked if I was participating. I had to go out and Google it because I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. I checked out their site and decided to go ahead and give it a try.

What the hell, right? Nothing ventured, nothing gained or something like that.

Anyway, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's been around since 1999 where there were 21 participants and six winners. In 2009, there were 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners (me among them). The goal is simple: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You win if you reach the 50,000 word mark.

You can write whatever kind of novel you want; you just can't write a single word of it until November 1st. You can write as many notes on your project as you like in the meantime though.

My first foray into NaNoWriMo was spent writing a chick lit/romance type novel. I'd read some pretty bad examples of this genre and had decided to put my money where my mouth was. I called it "Choose Your Own Adventure" and started off with nothing but the main character's name (Lavinia). I stayed up until midnight on Halloween night so I could start right away...and ended up staring at the cursor on the word processing program thinking, "What the hell did I do?"

It turned out all right though. The story came together a little at a time. There was some real junk to be found in there because you're supposed to just write. not edit. Just write. It doesn't matter if the story is crap. The goal is to reach your word count and that's it. Write a crappy first draft of something. That's what the month is all about. You can edit to your heart's content come December.

So that's what I did. I thought I'd get to December and never look at this project again but something strange happened. The story evolved into something I actually liked and kept growing and changing to the point where I stopped trying to predict where it was headed and just went along for the ride. I started to care about the characters. I even created a story specific soundtrack for it (a sure sign that I have committed to the project). By the end of the month, I had almost 60,000 words and no ending. I also had to change the title because the old one just didn't fit the story anymore. It's currently called "Vinnie and Ellie" (which I hate but I haven't yet thought of anything I like better) and it's one of my favorite projects. Of course, it's still unfinished because of my tunnel vision where my fantasy series is concerned, but I do look at it every now and again and am reminded just how much I really do like that WIP.

So last year, I think it was January, I came up with an idea for NaNoWriMo 2010. So I started scribbling notes. I spent nine months scribbling down ideas for this book. It was going to be a YA urban fantasy novel about a sixteen year old demon hunter whose mother (unaware of her daughter's after school activities) sends her to a program for troubled teens. A sort of "Buffy goes to juvie" story. I was so excited about it. It was going to be awesome. It was going to be the best damn book anyone had ever read. I was so in love with this story and I hadn't even written a word of it.

Then came November and all of a sudden, I was back in front of my computer, staring at a blinking cursor and thinking, "What the hell did I do?"

That's right. Despite all my careful planning and note taking, I hit a wall. The awesomeness in my head was not translating well onto the page. I didn't think I would make the goal and either did the NaNoWriMo progress chart. It kept telling me that at my current rate of production, I wouldn't finish until well into December. But, thanks for a last minute all nighter held on November 29th, I managed to get the 50,000 words (the project currently sits at 51k) but boy, was I depressed that it hadn't gone as well as I had hoped.

I stopped working on it and didn't look at it again until January 2011. I was surprised to find that parts of it didn't suck as badly as I recalled. I call it Solstice and there is some really good stuff in there (Well, so says me. I'm the only one to have read any of it). It just needs work because it's still very unfinished. It just needs a middle. And an ending. And a beginning. Much like "Vinnie and Ellie", I go and look at it once in a while and work on it a little bit more.

Next year I should really make a goal of finishing some of these WIPs I have sitting around.

But that's next year. This year, I have no plans for NaNoWriMo. I mean, I'm planning to participate but I have no idea what I'm going to write. I know it's only April and so there's plenty of time to come up with something but I don't like this idea of not knowing. I wonder what it'll be and if I'll end up loving or hating it.

Anyone else out there participate in NaNoWriMo? Did you win? Did you love it? Hate it? Did you know that Sara Gruen's novel Water For Elephants was a NaNoWriMo project?

Tell us your experiences and have a great weekend...


  1. I did it last year too and I loved it. It was fun being a part of something, and I did win. It showed me I can get a first draft out in 30 days if I really put my mind to it, and for that I'm thankful.

    Water for Elephants is my book club's next read. That is so cool to know it was a NaNo project!!!

  2. I did NaNoWriMo in 2010--I have to say I had a blast writing all those words. :D

    I didn't know that about Water for Elephants! I've heard a lot about that book; I really should read it.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog!

  3. I've never done NaNoWriMo, but I'm trying to make plans to do it this November. Frankly, I'm a bit intimidated. Do you have suggestions for how to balance work/family commitments while participating?

    I didn't know that Water for Elephants was a NaNo project -- that's neat!

  4. I'm a 5x NaNoWriMo'er and 5x winner. Also the ML for Lake County, FL :) I love NaNo It's an experience like no other, that every writer should attempt at least once. :)
    Great Post!

  5. Neat! I just might have to give this a try.

  6. I did know that about Water for Elephants. :D

    It's so cool that you do NaNo, too! My co-author introduced me to it in 2004, and I sort of half-heartedly joined her in it. I didn't do it for real until 2008. My co-author said that we should use it to write the third book in our series, since our first two books were under contract for publication. Technically, you're not supposed to co-write for NaNo, but since we had to write the third book so we could send it to our publisher when they needed it, we went ahead and did it anyway.

    It was HARD. My co-author was in Chili for the school semester, and I was in the US. We had to work around each other, and she had a certain school schedule to work out--so when it came down to it, I had ten days in which I was scheduled to write my 50,000 words. I did it--I wrote 5,000 words a day on each of those days, and our third book was written. (Thank goodness for Skype and AOL instant messenger!)

    It stretched me a lot, but it showed me what I was capable of doing.

    In 2009, I had not planned to do NaNo, but all of my friends were doing it and in October I mentioned the possibility of participating, but I had no idea what to write. My friend offered to throw prompt words at me whenever I felt stuck, and started out by giving me "duck, sensei, a stack of papers, some mushrooms, a spatula" and then my story was born. It ended up being 69,000 words. When NaNo was over, I spent several months editing and rewriting it and putting it through my beta-readers. Then I sent it to my publisher to see if they wanted it--and they did! (It's not published yet, but it will be.)

    2010 was the first year I set out with a plan to participate, and it didn't go over so well. The story ended up only being about 35,000 words (even though I did write 50K in November; I cheated and not all of the 50K were for the novel). And it needs to be almost completely rewritten. The story idea was decent--the execution was off. The good thing about last NaNo, though, was that it kicked my brain back into gear to work on the climax of another novel I was writing. (I do much better when I'm writing two things at once--it keeps me going.)

    I have no plans to participate this year, but who knows what will happen? It seems the years I don't plan to participate are the ones that work best for me. ;)

    Eek, sorry, I'm rambling like a crazy person. The subject of NaNo excites me--it's such an amazing experience to have as a writer. No matter if it was a hard experience, an easy one, or ended up being a project that needs complete rewriting, it's always taught me something. It was always worth it.

  7. I first heard of NaNoWriMo at the end of November 2010, I was so mad because I would have loved to participate! My friend was making fun of me for wanting to participate until I told her about Water For Elephants - now she wants to do it too!

    Thanks for the fun fact!

  8. I checked Water for Elephants out of the library once awhile back and tried to read it outside while Jupiter was playing in her pool. Needless to say, the book didn't get read but did get wet.

  9. I only heard of Nanowrimo last year and have never read a first hand account of what's involved - highly entertaining and thanks for that. I struggle, though, with a few hundred words and the mind boggles at the thought of writing tens of thousands!!
    Enjoyed the pst very much, though :-)
    All best

  10. @Elise- You're right- every writer should attempt NaNoWriMo at least once in their lives. It'll change so much for them.

    @Laura- NaNoWriMo excites me too.

  11. I may do it next year. I thought about it this past year, but I was deep into my current novel and was afraid of switching to another project, so I did a NaNoTryMo and just set a word count goal on the WIP, which I exceeded. So hopefully this year I'm in a place where I can do a separate project. Awesome that you made it!

  12. Well done you.

    I haven't done NaNo before either. I'm currently working very hard on a novel that I need to get in for the RNA New Writers Scheme for August so with any luck I might be looking to start the next thing by then and may well join you. For now, it's hard enough blogging every day and getting round to everyone (or even anyone - I'm certainly not getting round to them all)

    Great to meet you. Thanks so much for finding and following me. And I look forward to keeping in touch and sharing our writing progress together

    warm wishes

  13. I've done it twice (and finished). The first time I had no plan--I signed up at the last minute. The second time I planned roughly--had a basic story idea to start. Planning did make a difference for me. Both experiences were worthwhile in that I learned I *could* write that many words. (My published work is all short stuff.)

  14. I tried it last year, but two much happened and life got in the way. It's a great idea though, and those who win will come out with a manuscript to work with. That a very good thing!

    Good luck in 2011!


  15. I just read the book about writing a novel in thirty days, written by the guy who started NaNoWriMo. I'm thinking about participating this year, but I haven't committed to the idea yet.
    You have some fantastic ideas with your books though! I love the teenage demon hunter idea!
    To answer your comment on my blog, no, I didn't like mists of Avalon, and I really expected to love it. I LOVE long novels, and I liked King Arthur stories, so I thought it was a sure favorite. But I just never connected with it. I'm not sure why.

  16. Every year I think I'm going to do it and then I chicken out. I'm a bit commitment phobic. It's quite an accomplishment that I've stayed on the A-Z challenge. Love that Water For Elephants was a NaNoWriMo project!

    I’m A-Z Blogging on Langley Writes about Writing and Langley’s Rich and Random Life

  17. The first time I did NaNo was in 2002. ;)

  18. I have not done NaNoWriMo because it intimidates me. I write in spurts and not always every day. Maybe I should try it one year and see what happens.

    You inspire with your site and I've tapped you as a Versatile Blogger. You can claim your badge here I love coming here.

  19. I did it in 2010 and was amazed at how much I could get done when I had a deadline. I wound up with 61K by the end of it, and a pretty passable first draft of a book. Now, with rewrites, it's up to 85K and getting pretty close to being actually finished.

    Definitely planning to do it again in 2011. I have an idea too. And a title. which is very unusual for me. I usually can't come up with a title until after the book's done.

  20. Last minute I joined Nano. I was supposed to be a big revision month for me, but I LOVE the book I wrote that month. LOVE it.
    So yeah, I'll probably do it again next year, because I can't seem to stop writing.

  21. Can't believe I missed a NaNoWriMo post. Must not let it go by without commenting, lol.

    I love NaNo. My first attempt was back in 2006 where I wrote a whole maybe 5,000 words. Second attempt in 2007 came out at 14,000 and didn't get the very short YA draft done till 2009 but I am rewriting that novel now. It might be the first novel I ever submit to agents. 2008 was the first year I wrote 50k and with a romance/erotica novel. Then came 2009 where I basically didn't take part. March 2010 I did a March Novel Writing Challenge and wrote 67k words when my first goal was 30k. Then NaNoWriMo of that year, I wrote 51k (half) of an epic fantasy in 12 days. I still need to finish that novel draft.

    So, yes, I am a big fan of NaNo. And I don't even write every day (I think I only had a couple hundred words on a few days of 2010 and missed days on the 67k writing one). It's a great way to get out a first draft.