ARGH, or; What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

30 Nov

I approach the deadline for this particular post with mixed feelings, most of them apprehensive. At least once I was struck with the compulsion to flail my arms like a frustrated T-Rex but only succeeded in confusing the hell out of my dad, who was on the phone with me when it happened.

The problem is that I am running out of time. If you’ve had any contact with me whatsoever in the last month 1) that in itself is a miracle and 2) you probably already know what NaNo is–a knowledge either previously acquired, or crammed down your throat by its current victims.


National Novel Writing Month is “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing” according to the organization that hosts it, the prettily-named Office of Letters and Light. If NaNo is your first attempt at writing anything longer than, say, an essay or a ten-page story about pirates, that airy definition translates roughly to soul-sucking ego destroyer, the eater of dreams.

One of the first things I learned on committing to NaNo was that 30 days is a pretty arbitrary deadline. The 50,000 word goal is also pretty arbitrary, not to mention deceptive. Adult novels under 80k words are the exception rather than the rule. The good news is that the goal of NaNo is not to write the greatest novel of all time. It’s not even a quest to write one of the pulpy romance fics that populate your Aunt Mabel’s armoire (don’t look in there, the only things you will find are tears and an unquenchable thirst for brain bleach).

oh god why
NaNo is, at heart, an exercise meant to show you that you–yes, YOU–can write a book. It almost certainly will not be a well-crafted piece of high literature. Unless you’re some kind of brilliant author already and simply toying around with NaNo on a lark, this will yield a passel of pages that, to put it kindly, will need a lot of TLC (translation time again: your friends and family will avoid you for the next several months so you won’t ask them to read the crap you churned out whilst begging for the sweet release of death).

The biggest lesson NaNo taught me is that writing a novel is 10% fun, and 190% trudge through the salt mines. I can hear what you’re saying now. “But that’s like twice as much as 100%, stupid.” Believe me, it felt like more. When my “plot,” and I use the term loosely, turned out to be so threadbare it covered less than an elephant’s g-string, I had to start pulling and-thens out of my ass. I made up so much shit and wandered so far off the path that I barely recognized the 100-page bundle in front of me.

On the 21st day of NaNo, I quit. Really, truly quit. After a week of low word counts, low morale, and bottomed-out motivation, I threw up my hands and said “fuck this shit.”
fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff-

Within a few hours, a friend of mine convinced me that approaching it from another angle and keeping a positive attitude could help. (Thanks, Verdus, for giving me that shove out of the muck.) That night, we started doing 30-minute word sprints together and the resulting paragraphs began to eat up the deficit with alarming speed. While it’s slowed down just a little since then, I’m within reach and confident that I will meet my deadline. Will my book be finished? No. But it’s a damned good start.

Do I recommend NaNoWriMo to everyone? No. It’s grueling, often discouraging, and it can be overwhelming to someone who’s just dipping their toes in to see how the water feels, especially if they’re going into it alone. That’s not to say I don’t recommend NaNo at all, far from it. I’m stoked about finishing this. I even get a little label by my name that says “Winner!” and though it’s small, it’s curiously affirming. Just remember that a good support network, both at home and online, really helps boost you up when the going gets tough. Sign up on the NaNo forums to find local writer groups, even though it’s too late for this year’s run. People are there year-round.

Are you interested in signing up for future NaNos and want to get in the habit of writing every day? Do you just want to write more in general, but aren’t sure where to start? The only way to get better at writing is to practice, practice, practice. Check out 750words.com. You can set it up to send daily writing reminders to your email, and even earn cute little badges and stuff.

Want something more social than a private writing journal? Start a blog. They’re even free, tell me that’s not a sweet-ass deal. Challenge a friend who’s interested in writing to join you in a project. You can write about anything! Pick a subject, a photograph, or a even just a simple word for inspiration, set a time limit or a word count, and go, go, go.

Just promise that if you happen to find the shredded remains of a soul while you’re out there, send it back to me. I kinda miss it.

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5 Responses to “ARGH, or; What I Learned from NaNoWriMo”

  1. Verdus November 30, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    You’re welcome. 🙂

    This is a pretty good sum-up of NaNo in general, I think. This was my first year participating it. I imagined before signing up that it would be pretty grueling, making me want to throw up my arms in defeat and despair. Man, it was so much worse than that. But it was also so much better. As flat-out hard as it was, I’m glad that I did it, and I’m glad that you did too. See you in the winner’s circle!

    • Bika November 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

      I made it! With six whole hours to spare. This is all your fault!

      • Verdus November 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

        Pfft. You did all the hard work. I just waved some pom-poms for a bit.

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