It’s November, and that means it’s NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month has been around since 1999 but I firmly paid it no mind when it came onto my radar a few years ago. I mean, seriously, what a dumb idea. No one can write a novel in a month. Except a hack.
But last year, on November 6th, On Point, my favorite NPR show of all time, did a show, “Do you NaNoWriMo?”
Stupid show. I almost didn’t listen. Except I always listen to On Point.
Coincidentally, I already had a young adult murder mystery planned out in my head. I wasn’t ready to start writing it yet, because I was busy working on a screenplay for another book of mine, The Truth About Dating, but my young adult heroine was always knocking things over in the back of my brain to get attention. She was who I thought about when I woke up at 3:34AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. But I couldn’t start a book until the screenplay was done. And then about three quarters of the way through the radio show I suddenly decided that I WAS going to NaNoWriMo! I was going to write that novel in the month of November! It was such an abrupt turn-around. One minute, no, one second I was scoffing and scorning and then next second I was 100% on board.
I started Murder in Suburbia that day, November sixth. I wrote 1499 words. The next day I wrote 3650 words. By day three I had over ten thousand words! I hit a wall at day 13. I was up to 40,553 words and I didn’t know how in the word to get ten thousand more. Four three days I let the story gel. But at the time, I didn’t know I was letting things gel. I thought, “I’m not going to finish!” That is the big problem with NaNoWriMo. You feel panic-stricken most of the time because you only have a month!!!!! That’s also the reason NaNoWriMo is so fantastic. I have to keep writing or I won’t win. Right??? So after three days I noticed a little hole in the wall, and when I scratched it, some bricks fell out and I wrote 3972 more words. Now I was at 44,525 words. At this point in my novel, my teenage sleuth had everything she needed to solve the crime but I needed some kind of spectacular, nail-biting, brilliant finale. I wanted my young adult readers to see our heroine cleverly escape from mortal danger. She wasn’t magic. She didn’t have a mutant skill set. She couldn’t fight like a vampire slayer and she couldn’t kill like a vampire. She had to do it like a regular teen. My readers had to be able to save themselves in just the same way (in the unlikely event that a killer lived on their block). I was only 5,000 words from my “win” so I took a day to think it through. I like to plan things out in my head before opening up my laptop to write. So I thought about the plot while I raked the leaves and went to work and made pumpkin pie.
On my nineteenth day (November 25), I put in a marathon session and wrote 7,975 words to complete my story at 52,500 words.
I had just written a young adult murder mystery in 19 days. Mind blown.
Then I sent it to my mom and she LOVED it!
Over the next five months I revised, mainly by bulking up the story. It’s about 66,000 words now. But very little of what I’d written during NaNoWriMo got thrown out.
This year, I’m doing it again. From the start of my first book I planned to write a sequel from the best friend’s point of view. I plotted in my head. I wrote down a few scenes I didn’t want to forget. But I knew I’d start the real writing this month. In November. And things are really different the second time around. I’m not worried I won’t finish so I’m taking the time to write in all the details now. I’m not sure, but I suspect I’ll have a lot less revisions at the end.
Isabel Allende always starts her new books on January 8. I don’t plan to only write my books in November. But the timing worked out this year. And I learned something important. For the first four days I was so unbelievably bored from my writing that I didn’t think I had this book in me after all. I would have stopped, but I couldn’t. It was NaNoWriMo. So I kept writing. And eventually, everything clicked. Suddenly, I had all these great ideas for my character. I couldn’t wait to sit down to write her story. I couldn’t stop thinking about her when I was getting the kids off the bus, making dinner, and helping with homework. Looking back on the past five months, I realize I wasn’t saving this book for November. I tried to write it several times in the spring but I hadn’t immersed myself enough in the character to make her three-dimensional. So she bored me. So I stopped.
But you can’t NaNoWriMo without being immersed. It’s too time intensive. Before this month, I was sticking a (kind of lazy) toe in the water. NaNoWriMo makes you dive. And the water is freezing. So you have to swim.
Try it. It's exhilarating.