Making Fiction Reality: NaNoWriMo

I miss writing fiction. I’m not very good at it, but sometimes, I rather enjoy writing things that don’t require fact checking or accurate quotes. I like sketching out stories and then letting the characters lead me where they will.

I’ve done National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) twice, in 2006 and again in 2008. The goal is to write 50,000 words towards a novel in “30 days and nights of literary abandon,” with lots of motivation and misery-loves-company groups to help you get words on virtual paper. Quantity over quality, which is perfect for a first draft. It works out to 1,667 words every day, but I often wrote more when I had the time to make up for inevitable busy spells or dry periods.

In 2006, I did crank out the majority of a novel, “Commuter Shoes,” dealing with a twenty-something city dweller who buys an old house in a rather urban suburb. (Hmm… sound familiar?) Over the course of the next year, some of the things I fictionalized began coming true, which rather freaked me out.

In 2007, I was stumped for ideas, but in 2008, I tackled it again, this time writing historical fiction and doing a lot more preparation. I had an outline, characters, and major plot points. And after the 30 day sprint, I had 60,000 words, but was only in about 1955, whereas my timeline had plans for my characters until the mid-1980s. But I got busy – wrapped up in the holidays, etc, and didn’t return to it.

So I have two half-written novels, a smattering of half-baked short stories, and that’s about it.

I would love to tackle NaNoWriMo again, but I know that this is not the year. With school and work and “life” (ha!), I’m just barely hanging on to reality. While escaping to fiction would be nice, I know that I would get more frustrated at doing yet another thing that falls short of my vision.

That said, if you have the beginnings of a story in you, I highly encourage you to check out NaNoWriMo. It’s a terrific way to force you to work through your plot gremlins and start translating the ideas to paper. The online communities are great and full of motivation – and they can even help you out if you get stuck in a plot, need help with names, or just want to make sure something makes sense. And they even have local meetups throughout the area, so you can get together over coffee and share ideas or just quiet, caffeinated solace.

Even if no one ever reads it, or if you later read it and decide it’s not what you had in mind, it’s an experience that’s well worth the effort. It might turn out better than you ever expected! And November is the perfect month for it: cold and dreary enough that you spend more time inside, yet before the chaos of December or the ennui of January.

One tip: don’t edit as you write. It will frustrate you and impede the process. In fact, if I find myself trying to edit, I sometimes turn the text to white – on a white background – and write away, unencumbered by the pesky internal editor. Sara Toole Miller has more great practical advice – and a great planning calendar.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to write a paper about selling frozen pies.

Good luck! Ready, set, write!

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