I have never been happier to say goodbye to November. And yes, I know it’s already been over for a handful of days—but it took me a while to recover.
Don’t get me wrong—November is one of my favorite months. It’s my birthday, there’s football and Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving.
But this year, November was different. Mainly, because I decided I was going to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days with NaNoWriMo. And once I set my mind on something, I don’t recommend betting against me.
I won’t keep you guessing—I crossed the NaNo finish line two days ahead of schedule, writing my 50,000th word around 9pm on November 28th. For those of you who are curious, that word was ‘remember.’
In hindsight, writing 50,000 words was a lot like that time I decided to walk the Rock and Roll half marathon six years ago.
There was training. For me, my NaNo prep-work involved writing character sketches (although I was at an advantage since most of my characters were old friends from my first novel) and a loose outline of the chain of events.
There were tools. Not unlike the carbs the night before, the cups of water and little energy-gel-things during the half marathon, I had my tools in place. I had considered trying Scrivener, a writing program so many people rave about, but ended up using my tried-and-true method of juggling a few different word documents.
As I wrote, I shuffled back and forth between these docs:
First Thoughts: where I kept my character notes and that rough outline from the prep stage. I veered away from it at times, but it’s held up pretty well.
NaNo Notes: whenever I had a thought pop up that I wanted to either include in a later scene or remember to include in a scene I’d already written, I jotted it down here. I have a feeling this document will come in handy more during the editing stage. It’s also where I kept track of my word count.
NaNo Scraps: I’m the kind of writer who will re-write a scene or a conversation a few times until it’s right. Usually, I keep those ‘scraps’ on a separate page within the document in case I change my mind or want to reference them later, but because I was using the Microsoft Word word-counter to help me keep on track, I gave the scraps their own document.
Draft Zero: The actual draft that I started writing at midnight on November 1st. As of last night, it’s 60,036 words long.
There was a plan. The lovely folks at NaNo tell you that you should write 1,667 words a day to reach that 50,000 word goal. I knew that for me, that wasn’t realistic. But I did set another goal of writing every single day. While NaNo was a constant game of falling behind, catching up, getting ahead and falling behind again, I still managed to write every single day.
I wrote every night during both of my week-long business trips. I wrote on Election night. I wrote on the day of a “creative black tie” halloween party. I wrote instead of watching a few football games. I wrote on my birthday. I wrote on Thanksgiving. Even if it was just a handful of words, I wrote every single day.
My mantra became: if I don’t write today, I won’t be able to say I wrote every day.
There was support. I can’t thank everyone enough, the people near and far who supported and encouraged me along the way. Just like those people clapping on the sidelines when I was huffing and puffing my way down the streets of Chicago, it made a big difference and helped keep me going.
There were sprints. Whether you’re walking 13.1 miles or writing 50,000 words, the task can seem daunting. And sometimes, you get stuck inside your head, and taking the next step or writing the next word can seem impossible. That’s when my trainer and friend would force me to do a quick sprint to wake things up. And just like that, the writing sprints helped me re-energize and get past the blank page.
If you haven’t heard of a writing sprint, it’s where a group of people agree to a time period where you all just write. You don’t edit. You don’t stop and look back to see how you described a certain character’s hair 70 pages back, like I did once or twice. And when the time is up, you enter the number of words you wrote (as long as you can remember where exactly you started writing, I forgot more than a few times).
I usually didn’t win—but I always got that much closer to 50k.
There was the finish line. The day I ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, I knew I was going to finish. I had about 1,000 words left and I was not going to stop until I got there. Luckily, there was a local Write-In scheduled for that night, and as much as I loved writing at my own little Starbucks table—I wanted to have someone to high-five as I reached that goal.
As I wrote that last word, I felt the same high, the same sense of accomplishment that I did crossing that finish line after 13.1 miles. This is me in the moments after, thinking “Did I really just do that?”
There was pain. Granted, the pain at the end of NaNo was nothing compared to the half marathon where I made the big mistake of wearing the wrong kind of socks. Ouch! But there was still that moment where I thought: “I am so glad I did that, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever doing it again!”
And while I haven’t walked another half marathon since then, who knows. Maybe I’ll give both goals another go one day.
This is the fashionable boot I had to wear for a few weeks after the half marathon. The pain that came after NaNo was more in the form of complete mental exhaustion.
Last, but not least. There were stats. I finished walking the half marathon in 4 hours, 10 minutes and 02 seconds. I ‘won’ NaNo in 28 days, but kept going and ended the month with a total of 54,648 words.
Here’s a shot of the dashboard that taunted me all month long with that little bar, letting me know just how far behind I was. Plus, the little badges I was awarded along the way and the banner they made for us to digitally fly, announcing our accomplishment.
But the work isn’t over. While I was not good about keeping up the long-distance walking, I am committed to keeping up with writing every day. After all, while the goal of NaNoWriMo was 50,000 words, that isn’t enough to make a full novel.
Besides, my story isn’t over yet.