Really though, while writing a novel seems romantic, the reality is that it’s a lot of work, which I had to find out the hard way. I offer my Nanowrimo story and novel-writing experiences, in the hope that you can learn from my mistakes. Or, you can just sit back and enjoy the sweet scent of repeated failure and embarrassing reminiscence about to drift your way. That can be fun too.
Oh man, November is a rush! The crazy, demonic writing sprints – which make you want to bash your head against a wall repeatedly – that I both hate and am addicted to. October is kind of crazy too. For me at least, because I like to plan my novels, a month-long process that takes every bit as much time as the actual writing.
It wasn’t always this way, though. At one point as a kid I wanted to be a writer, and wrote a ‘novel’ about a woman who had a dragon. Her name was Leah Rhea Shalmimick. Hey, I was ten, and huge into the Dragonlance series. Anyways, for a while after that I fantasized about writing such an amazing book, which of course would make me rich and famous.
Sadly, I had the patience of an excited puppy, and quickly decided that reading novels was much better (translation, easier) than writing them.
Teenager Bucket List
My next attempt came in 2000. I was an astute, seasoned high school student, and with graduation coming up looked back to that wispy, abandoned dream. I was older now, and faced a life of Having to Do Important Adult Things, so if I wanted to check writing a novel off my bucket list, it would have to be now. Besides, I’d gotten an ‘A’ in English 30, so really, how hard could it be?
I Yahooed ‘how to write a novel quickly’ which, of course, lead me to the tall, dark and handsome Nanowrimo. It seduced me with rose-colored fantasies, and sexy, scandalous promises. I could write a whole novel in just 30 days? Uh, yes please!
My virgin Nanowrimo voyage was just a sit-down-and-go thing, which we call ‘pantsing’ in the biz. As in, ‘writing by the seat of your pants’. On November 1, 2000, as soon as I got home from school I just randomly started writing… something, which ended up being called ‘Valena‘. I still have the pages I wrote, and last fall made an unwise attempt to read them. Let’s just say I had more enthusiasm than skill back then.
The second attempt at Nanowrimo came shorty after I returned from my first time living away from home. Over the summer of 2001 I had moved to Utah, where I got a job at a call centre, and in between calls I would write story ideas in a notebook. Sometimes I’d even make sketches during calls, drawing my characters, some landscapes and swords and stuff. So many ideas, so little implementation. The novel, which I called ‘Rapunzel’ was an adaptation of the original story, and while I was enthusiastic for the beginning and knew how I wanted it to end, was stumped about what to do in the middle.
Like my first novel, I still have everything I wrote for ‘Rapunzel’, as well as all the notes and sketches. I take them out sometimes for a dose of nostalgia – and humility.
The Dry Spell and Renewed Vigor
Failing twice can be very discouraging, so starting in 2002 I took a break to concentrate on important post-secondary pursuits, which included attending lectures, doing homework, and trying to get as many dates as I possibly could. Ah, college!
Anywa, it ended up being a long break. I got married, moved, and settled into full-time work and domestic bliss in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It wasn’t until 2014 that I remembered ‘oh right, I have a dream to become an author’, and sat down to get serious.
My novel that year was called ‘6 Degrees’. I came up with this edgy idea I still think is cool, and then yet again just pantsed it (you think I’d have learnt by now, but no). Writing started strong, and quickly went downhill. I logged onto Nanowrimo only to update my painfully acquired word count, because seeing other people’s successes was too depressing.
‘6 Degrees’ made it to 30,000 words of meandering, nonexistent plot before I became frustrated and gave up. It was still a lot of fun, though. I had convinced my husband to do Nanowrimo with me, and we had weekly dates at Starbucks where we wore our ‘writing jackets’ – which were just men’s suit coats from Value Village – and wrote on matching mini laptops. Despite my word goal failure, it’s one of the best memories of my life.
Looking Up An Old Friend
After the frustrations of ‘6 Degrees’ I realized that if I wanted to be serious as a writer, I needed to know what the hell I was doing. The first place I went to for help was, of course, my old friend Nanowrimo. I’d rudely ignored it the previous year, which is a shame because Nano’s website has excellent forums. I could ask for help from the sweet, kind Nano angels who have walked the path before me and were subsequently much smarter than me. It was on those forums that I got my first clues about how to succeed.
On the suggestions and advice from the people of Nanowrimo, I actually outlined my next novel attempt, titled ‘Symbiont’. Planning began in early 2015, and with all the enthusiasm I felt, I just couldn’t wait for November. Fortunately, by this time Nanowrimo had implemented Camp Nanowrimo in July, so I didn’t have to write all alone. By the end of June I had some characters and a rudimentary plot outline that included a beginning, some middle things, and an end. Man, I felt so pro.
Pen hit paper on July 1, and I followed my awkward but incredibly helpful outline all the way to 42,000 words, well past the 30,00 goal I’d set on the Camp Nanowrimo website. Another winner!
The Turning Point
The planning I did on ’Symbiont’ got me so close to a 50k word count, I could taste victory. I didn’t finish writing it, but in my heart it was completed because I knew how it ended. What? That counts, right?
Anyway, so now I’d had a small taste of success, and wanted more. This outlining thing was pure gold, but I didn’t know enough, not nearly enough! Fortunately, Professor Google was willing to help me out, and it didn’t take too long before I found the Advance Fiction Writing website written by Randy Ingermanson.
Holy toledo it was addicting! I read every article on the site, and still wanted more. My prayers were answered as I discovered that Randy had written a book, ‘ Writing Fiction for Dummies’ (I wrote a review here). I ordered it immediately, and once book arrived two days later, I dug right in. It was September by now, and I needed to get smart before October so that I could plan out my novel like a big girl.
I read Writing Fiction for Dummies from cover to cover. Several times. Then, I sat down and started outlining.
Have you ever that that ‘brain hurt’ feeling, like you’ve been thinking too hard? Ya, I had that for a month straight. But I did it. I created a full outline by the end of October! November 1, 2015 I sat down in my newly appointed writing room with this lovely, delicious outline, and began creating magic out of words.
I reached my word goal. ‘Legend of Land’ is a little over 50k, which is admittedly not full novel length, but I don’t care about that, not even a little it. I wrote a novel in 30 days, and that little ‘Winner!’ badge is proudly displayed over my novel title on the Nanowrimo website. For all eternity. Or at least until the machines take over the world and crash the internet.
For the record, this novel will never see the light of day. I wrote it successfully, but during the course of writing, realized that the story idea didn’t really interest me. If I didn’t have the outline to guide me through each scene and chapter, I know with absolute surety I would have failed. But I did have my outline, so I failure wasn’t an option! Yaaaaay! Another valuable lesson learned.
Fast Forward to Our Present Day
Winning changed things – it changed me – and over 2016 I began planning out multiple novels, including ’The Secret of Water’. ‘The Secret of Water’ was supposed to be my November novel, but sadly didn’t happen. A sweet little puppy came into our lives in October, and I was too busy cleaning up pee and trying to catch up on lost sleep to work on writing 1600 words a day.
In case you don’t know, puppies are like infants, waking you up every couple of hours during the night. It sucks, but they’re worth it!
I’m okay with not doing Nanowrimo in 2016 though, because during that year my knowledge exploded exponentially. My bookshelf now holds thirteen books on creative fiction writing skills, and winning in 2015 gave me a coupon for 50% off the price for Scrivener. It’s an amazing program that makes planning, writing and editing sooooo much easier! I’m currently outlining three novels and writing a short story, and feel such excitement working on them.
Most importantly, I’ve developed the habit of writing every day. I’ve come to understand my writing process, my strengths and weaknesses, and finally, how I can achieve that childhood dream of become a published author.