It is said that everyone has a story in them. NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month aims to help people in creating novels. It is a challenge to write 50000 words of a novel’s draft in the 30 days of November. I was one of the many people who were dubious about it and assumed it emphasizes on quantity over quality. This year I decided to give it a try. I did have a few story ideas in mind for years but never managed to write them, so I figured I’d take part and see how it goes. In this post, I will share my experience with my first NaNoWriMo and give you reasons to try it out yourself.
Before I talk about my NaNoWriMo experience, let me tell you about my tryst with writing. First of all, I am a nonfiction writer. Essay writing and blogging are my areas. I’ve also dabbled in poetry when I was a child, but writing fiction has always been a pain for me. I found even short stories to be extremely hard to write, which means attempting a novel is going to be a daunting task. Another thing about me is that I’ve always been a planner, never a pantser. Even for my blog posts, I often have an outline in mind before typing the words. If the topic means a lot to me, I jot down notes for days and plan out everything before writing the post.
When I first attempted writing a short story, it was a frustrating experience. I was excited about the idea of writing the story and used to plan every scene beforehand. This made writing it a chore because all the fun was had while planning. Soon, I stopped writing short stories because it did not appeal to me.
Then, I toyed with the idea of writing novels for a long time. I somehow felt that novels would suit me better than short stories. I had few plot ideas, some characters in mind and even thought of an outline, but I never really got to writing. Every time I started my novel, I would quickly move on to write a blog post.
It is a lot easier to write blog posts. If you are familiar with software development cycle, writing blog posts is like following agile sprint methodology and writing novels is like adopting waterfall model. With blogs, you write short posts (develop), edit (validate), publish (release) and get feedback quickly. With novels, you develop the story for a long time, don’t know if it is any good, don’t usually get proper feedback as you write and it can be quite challenging to finish. After all the time and effort, there is a huge possibility that it won’t get published or won’t fare well in the market.
When there is a model like blogging where I can get instant gratification, my mind doesn’t want to focus on novels which take much longer, need monumentally more work and whose benefits (if any) can only be reaped in the long run. Hence, I kept writing blog posts to actively procrastinate writing novels.
This year, however, I wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo to push myself to work on my novel. I didn’t have an outline planned and started writing random things. I liked the way the story moved, but I did not feel good about being completely in the dark. I started over again with an outline in mind but found the structure too constricting. The kind of creative freedom I enjoyed while pantsing no longer existed and writing started to feel boring.
I scrapped my draft again and started plantsing this time. What is plantsing? It is having a loose flexible structure to your story, but driving it along on your whim as you write. The way I did this was by defining a few characters and the setup very roughly and taking the story forward based on my mood as I wrote. This allowed me to insert random stuff inspired by daily life. At the same time, I knew what my characters wanted and how they would react to a given situation, so I could avoid rambling on trivial things or unintentionally adding fillers that need to be cut out while revising. Although this approach requires me to edit heavily when compared to proper planning, I found it fun and that is the most important thing while writing. If you aren’t having fun writing, you simply wouldn’t continue.
I found NaNoWriMo extremely helpful because it helped me start my draft, identify that plantsing a novel works for me and gave me the right mindset needed to work on a novel. Having 30 days to complete the first draft means I can’t obsess over every word choice or afford to edit as I write. I just focused on getting the words out even if the lines didn’t flow beautifully or were not grammatically correct. I don’t know if I will focus enough on writing this month or if I even aim to finish my draft anytime in the future, but if I was serious, this mindset could potentially help me complete a draft which can be revised later.
One more thing I learnt from taking part in NaNoWriMo is realizing how much time and effort goes into creating a novel. We are all quick to judge a book and/or author. Some people diss at authours for their writing style or the kind of books they write. Some even make it a mission to find faults and pinpoint everything that is remotely wrong in a book. Only when you attempt to write a novel do you realize how much hard work and perseverance goes into it.
The past two weeks of scrambling my brain made me appreciate all the authors out there, even the ones whose books I didn’t like. Whether they are celebrities or up-and-coming newbie authors or one of the many writers who are yet to be published, I’ve got a newfound respect for them now. I figure it takes a lot of grit and resolve to complete a manuscript and pitch it to agents or publishers. Not many can do that.
I had a great time in these first few days of NaNoWriMo and would recommend you to try it as well. It’s not too late to join this year. You can even try Camp NaNoWriMo which is a more flexible version and occurs twice a year. Here is why you should try your hands at NaNoWriMo:
- You might find out that you have a great story to tell the world, and you would miss it if you didn’t try writing.
- You can find out what writing approach works for you and what doesn’t. Some people may need to know every scene that happens in their story before they begin writing. Some might find that plans hold them back. The only way to find this out is by writing and you’ll be doing that frequently if you contest.
- You will be flooded with writing tips and prompts on social media. If not all, at least some of them will be useful for you.
- Having thousands of people who also take up the challenge will inspire you to give your all.
- If you are successful in finishing your draft within a month, you can edit it in the coming months and submit for publishing. Even if you are only halfway through your first draft, that’s progress too.
- You might find that writing fiction is not for you and that’s okay. You can always be a rebel and work on any writing project other than a novel. Whether you are a short story writer, blogger, nonfiction writer, comics creator, you can set your own goals and participate in NaNoWriMo as a NaNoRebel.
Note: The intent is to finish a draft of your novel. So by the end of the month, don’t expect to have a manuscript ready that you can immediately submit to publishers or agents. You will have to edit and revise your draft to make it ready for a publisher.