Yes, I’m doing it again, participating in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. My first NaNoWriMo was in 2011, when I met the challenge of writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. NaNoWriMo was launched in 1999 when a group of 21 writers got together and decided to each try to write a novel in a month. The idea has been growing ever since and last year over 300,000 adults and almost 90,000 young writers participated. Clearly, deadlines and a sense of community, even if virtual, works for writers. One of the best reasons the website listed for writing a novel when I took part three years ago was that finishing a novel allowed you to change your “I’ve always wanted to write a novel,” line at parties to “I wrote a novel.” True, I’ve used that line.
I didn’t completely finish my novel in November 2011, though I wrote over 50,000 words, and I finished the novel a month later. And it wasn’t exactly a novel either. I wrote a very marginally fictionalized account of a family situation that had happened the summer before. It felt more like transcribing an experience, with different names for the characters, than imagining and writing a story. I suspect it’s not a particularly compelling novel, because I’ve never even read it myself.
Now I’m writing a novel that is completely fiction and it’s more fun than I could have imagined. After the fairly soul-wrenching work of the memoir I spent much of the last six months pulling into shape, I needed a break. A decent draft of the memoir is waiting for me to make the next set of edits. But before I go back into the sad and anxious time in my life the memoir recounts, I wanted to write something like the well-crafted but decidedly not-heavy novel I read just as I was finishing the last draft of the memoir. “That’s what I want to write next,” I said to myself when I finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
Before I left for Europe, I had the idea of writing a novel about a young woman traveling, visiting the places I went on my recent trip. My idea of working on the novel while I was traveling and able to recount details of the places I stayed quickly fell aside in favor of just experiencing those places. As a friend said to me in Europe, “You don’t need to be writing now. You’re doing your research.”
That was a good enough excuse for me, and actually, it wasn’t an excuse. Now as I’m writing, when I need facts and real experiences from Normandy or Amsterdam or Provence, my research brain is there to provide the details.
What’s fun about this novel is experiencing the delicious excitement of writing fiction, not fictionalized fact. When I sit down at the computer every day to write the next few scenes, I don’t know what’s going to happen, what new secrets are going to pop out, what my characters will do and what they’ll say. In fact, I’m just getting to know my protagonist and I’m 36,000 words in to the novel. But that makes sense, right? You don’t get to really know someone when you first meet her. It takes awhile, like 36,000 words worth of awhile.
Being already 36,000 words in to the novel, does that mean I’m only going to write 14,000 words in November? No, my plan is to write another 50,000 words, because that should be enough for me to finish the novel. I want a first draft of the novel done by the end of December so I can get back to work on the memoir. Trying to work on both isn’t working. My head is firmly in this novel — I think about the characters as I move through my day, plot ideas drift through my mind (though very rarely translate in to what actually happens when I sit down to write), and when I go in to my study and shut the door for my uninterrupted hours of writing, finding out what happens next to Cecelia and her friends Nina and Sally is all I want to do.
So, I’m doing it. Fifty thousand words in 30 days, starting tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.