November is NaNoWriMo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal: write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words per day. And it’s much harder than it sounds. Both last year and this year, less than 12% of those who participated successfully completed the challenge. Even so, millions of words are written by individuals who believe as NaNoWriMo does—as I do—that stories matter.
For years I’ve been wanting to participate. Years. When I discovered that 2019 was their 20th anniversary, I was quite surprised because it’s felt like I’ve wanted to participate for so much longer than that.
In the job I held for 15 years prior to beginning RV life in October 2017, our largest event of the year was held the first week of December. The funds we made accounted for about 10-20% of our annual budget. In other words, it was a big deal and it had to be a success. In an office with less than 10 people, it also meant that no matter what your job title, you helped with the event. In my case, I was in charge of all the volunteers, check-in and checkout, how we accepted money and the flow of the silent auction. I started thinking and planning in September.
But with the extra hours required of me during November, not to mention the stress, I never participated in NaNoWriMo. Even before I was on the road, participation was a goal in RV life. I even wrote on the subject in a very early blog post on some of the things I was excited for in RV life.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Guess how I spent November?
NaNoWriMo Facts and Figures
Let me start by telling you a bit about the program. In 1999, the first year of NaNoWriMo, 21 people participated, including the guy who came up with the idea. Two years later, that number was 5,000. In 2006, the program became a non-profit.
Last year, more than 400,000 people participated, one quarter of whom were students and educators through the Young Writers Program. The numbers for this year are down by more than 25%. I’ve thought about this, I’m not sure what accounts for the dramatic drop. Participants are world-wide, writing on six continents.
Today, NaNoWriMo has a staff of 15 who run more than the November NaNoWriMo program. The other programs are:
- Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July
- Young Writers Program
- Come Write In (in conjunction with local libraries, bookstores and community centers)
- Now What? program in January and February
The most well-known book that had its start during a NaNoWriMo is Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. It became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a Hollywood movie. (The book was great, the movie not so much.) My Book Club read the book and liked it so much, it was voted our best read of 2008.
Other books that came out of past NaNoWriMos include Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
How It Works
It’s really simple and all online. Create an account on the NanoWrMo website. Create your project. You can include as much or as little detail as you like. Start writing on November 1 and log in your word count each day that you write.
You can earn badges from NaNo along the way for both number of days in a row you write and number of words you write. Additionally, you can give yourself badges for things like telling another person about the program, having an “aha” moment during your writing process and many more.
When you hit 50,000 words, you were declared a winner and received a winner’s certificate.
Chatter started heavy on both the website’s forum and in the groups on social media in October. Many participants dedicate the month prior, dubbed Preptober, to preparing and planning their NaNo project.
In writing, I’ve always heard you are either a planner or a pantser. A planner is exactly what you think it is. A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. Pantsers often site the well-known Robert Frost quote, “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader” as the reason for preferring this method of writing. They think the story unfolds more naturally if it isn’t planned out.
I learned a new term this year. Plantser, which is a hybrid of the two. They have these three labels as badges you can give yourself. I was greatly worried about this as normally I fall squarely into the planner category, but I had to give myself the plantser badge. With the Balloon Fiesta the first two weeks of October, the month just didn’t leave me with enough planning time.
Let’s start with the bottom line: I won NaNoWrMo!!
The goal I set for myself was 2,000 words for 25 days. I gave myself the cushion of five days of no writing. I wanted to allow for the boring days for laundry and grocery shopping as well as re-energizing days for adventure and reading. But in the end, I found it easier not to lose momentum (not to mention, there were the 7-, 14- and 21-days writing in a row badges I wanted to earn) so I wrote all 30 days of the month.
The first two days left me zombie-like. It was so strange. I work on this blog in some form or another every day so shifting to writing a novel didn’t seem like a stretch. But getting the words on the page those first days wiped me out.
After writing those first two days, I basically crawled in bed and watched movies the rest of the day. It really worried me because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that for the entire month. I still had to maintain this blog and keep up with my job. Luckily, on day three, things got better. I guess I got used to the new routine so after five hours of NaNo writing each day, I still had energy for the other things that needed done.
In 30 days:
- I finished a first draft of a short novel with 24 chapters.
- Wrote almost 54,000 words, not including blog writing.
- Least number of words written in one day: 288.
- Most number of words written in one day: 2,752 (the first day).
- Earned every badge given out by NaNoWriMo.
- Gave myself 10 of the 15 badges available (my writing never made me cry nor was a I NaNo rebel which is a person not starting a new novel…in other words working on an existing project or not writing fiction).
- On my stats page, NaNo tells me I write 7 words per minute. I’m a very slow writer. Always have been. The same page told me I average 1,788 words per day.
This is another expression that comes from writing. Most writers find the beginning and the end of a novel relatively easy to write. At the beginning you have every possibility laid out in front of you plus you are world-building and getting your characters into trouble. It’s the excitement of starting. At the end, you can see the finish line which, in and of itself, is an incredible motivator. It’s the middle where you struggle both story-wise and motivation-wise.
Turns out NaNoWriMo runs a similar path. There is so much energy around starting on November 1st. So much so, that many people stay up late on Halloween for the sole purpose of beginning their project at a minute after midnight. Of course, it is hard to generate all that energy yourself, most of it comes from posts on social media with everyone adding to the conversation in highly positive enthusiastic supportive ways .
And the last of the month has people striving and stretching to be a NaNoWriMo winner. But, the second and third week, are hard. Harder, I should say. The glow from the exciting beginning has worn off, you are trying to keep the plot and character development of your novel moving along, and it feels like you have so far to go that you’ll never make it. It is like swimming in mud. You are feeling it both with your story and the goal of 50,000 words.
For me, I wrote more than 17,000 the first week. Then between 10,000-12,000 the three weeks that followed. And, for the most part, I was writing the same number of hours each week. I think I would’ve had a higher word count from the finish-line energy of week four if I’d had an outline. Part of how I spent my time was figuring out how my main characters were going to solve the mystery I’d created at the beginning.
To help keep my sanity and perspective, I committed myself to one adventure per week. After writing nine days straight and not leaving the rig, I decided my first adventure would be something I’ve never done before. I went to a popular, award-winning winery just a few miles from my RV park. First, I had a coupon for a free tasting (normally $6) from my Balloon Fiesta welcome bag.
Next, I paid $35, received a glass of my favorite of the tastings and went into the room where three lines of tables were set up with 16×20 blank canvases on easels for the Sip and Paint class. After the winery’s kitchen brought in snacks and we went through the paint brush line, we were ready to begin.
In a flash, three hours passed. I couldn’t believe it. And that’s not just the wine talking. It was so fun, creative and, surprisingly, much easier than I expected. I went into the class with no painting ability and never having done it before. At the end, I liked my creation enough to hang it on the refrigerator in the rig. I knew I’d be an excellent sipper, having had lots of experience. But who knew I’d create a painting that looks like what it’s supposed to look like?
A week after the Sip and Paint, I headed to Rockhound State Park which was nine miles from my RV park for a star gazing party. Like the Sip and Paint, I’d heard of star gazing parties but had never been to one. In fact, it too, was on a list I created in an early blog post of things I wanted to do on the road.
The description said, “The Summer Milky Way runs from east to west. Both Jupiter and Saturn have set in the southwest. Andromeda and Andromeda Galaxy are high in the east.”
The sun set a few minutes after 5:00 but the program didn’t start until a few minutes after 6:00 when it was dark. It ran for about 90 minutes. It was cool and strange. A group of 20 or so people sat around a guy who was talking in the dark. We couldn’t see his face, could barely see his outline because it was a moonless night, making it a great night for stargazing. He had a laser pointer that went a long way and made it easy to see what stars and planets he pointed to.
Even though the presentation was given by one man, other instructors came so we had three telescopes set up. The presentation was filled with information. So much that I’m not sure I could repeat but a couple of things I learned. After the presentation, we would get in line at one of the telescopes, each pointing to something different. Then rotate through, getting to see globular clusters, a ring cluster of stars the guy called a Cheerio, and planets. My favorite was seeing the rings around Saturn, as well as four of its moons.
My third adventure was a visit to the local museum called Deming Luna Membres Museum. I’m not going to go into detail here because I want to save it for my post about Deming. However, I will say it was run by the local historical society. I’ve been to many museums run by historical societies and this, by far, was the best one I’ve been to in my travels. Can’t wait to tell you more about it.
Where from Here? NaNoWriMo 2020?
You might be wondering what I’m going to do with the novel I wrote. Well, I’m not sure yet. First, I need some distance from it so I have vowed to not look at it for the entire month of December. Distance helps you to read your writing with fresh eyes. A critical eye is a must if you hope to improve the piece through the revision process. It’s super easy to get attached to your own words and a little distance can make cuts and edits easier on your heart.
In January, I’ll read the whole thing through making notes for improvements. Then I’ll start the revision process. Once I’ve made it the best that I can, I’ll have to decide if it is good enough that it’s worth trying to get it published or whether it was just an exercise in writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
No matter what, I’m glad I participated. If for no other reason than to prove to myself I could do it. Plus, checking two items off the bucket list leaves room to add two more.
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You continue to amaze me in all that you conquer.
My goal is to declutter my house so I don’t feel guilty when I travel or when I read your Novel!
Wishing you a Magical Christmas.
Love and PEACE to you.
Thank you, my friend. That’s a good goal. And a big one. During my two years of downsizing I was always amazed at how much work I’d do and still be left with tons more. There are times it seems never-ending. But just keep chipping away at it. You’ll get there. Merry Christmas to you too!
Congrats on being a winner, Debbie! Can’t wait to hear about Deming. I enjoyed my desert ride down to Carlsbad and Guadalupe Nat Park back in October. Enjoy the holidays!
Thanks, Mary. I’m enjoying Deming. A lot to do in the area for such a small town. I’m glad you took the extra days to adventure around. And, I’m counting down the days until the next Book Club trip.
Congrats! That is great accomplishment. November is difficult month to do Nano. I have been a Wrimo on and off since 2004 for several years. Yes. Distance between you and what I refer to as puke on the page. I got a book out of a couple of them. After much editing! Angela’s Decision: A Journey of Adaptation. On Amazon. A 2016 published hybrid book of memoir/insp/film/fiction My film Angela’s Decision was made first in 2007. I’d revisit it in Feb and March. You’ll have nuggets you can use! Congrats again!
Thanks, Gena. That’s awesome about yours also and a movie too! I haven’t decided if I’m going to do it next year. It’ll depend on where I am but if I do and you do, let’s be “buddies” so we can encourage each other. Thanks for the words of wisdom.
Congratulations on completing your goal!! That’s amazing!!
Congratulations! I hope you had fun writing this post because I had fun reading it. I loved how you connected your adventures to your writing goals.
Thanks April. It’s funny. I really expected this to be about a 500 word post, basically just to say I completed it. But then I did a little research and found it so interested I wanted to share. Then it kept going and ended up being 4 times longer than I planned. I did enjoy writing this one. I appreciate your comment.
Nice work Debbie! Super proud of you! You inspire me to get back to writing.
You definitely should. Every once in a while, I’ll flash on your novel. If you’ve have a distance from it, you should take another look at it. Hope you are well. I love the photos of your house you post on social media. Take care.
As always, you are amazing, Debbie! As always, I am behind for Christmas so will write more when I catch up. Needed those wise words of inspiration for downsizing too. Happy Holidays, my goal-setting friend!
Thanks, Sharon. So nice of you to say. Happy Holidays to you too.
Debbie, I can’t wait for you to publish! I’ll purchase the first copy! I’m excited. I hope you have the success of “Water for Elephants”. I enjoyed that book too. I love that you completer this bucket list and I love it even more if I get to read your work!
Kim, thank you. So nice of you to say. I’m glad someone else liked that book as much as I did. I’m definitely getting itchy to get back to the novel and reread it and start rewriting it. But I’m going to stick with my December off decision.
PS Glad we got your email address figured out and that this arrived in your in box.
Congratulations on being a NANOWRIMO winner!! 50,000 plus words in one month … Well done.
Thanks, Marie. It wasn’t easy but it was rewarding to prove to myself I could, basically, write the equivalent of a blog post a day.