How I caught the NaNoWriMo writing bug

NaNo bannerI discovered NaNoWriMo in 2006. I had quit my teaching job over the summer and in September I took myself off to Canada on a 12 month work visa. I needed to take a break from my career, from England, from what felt like a very staid life. I would spend a year, I decided, setting myself new challenges, trying new things and hewing my creative self out of the granite block of ‘adultness’ I had buried myself in.

I rocked up in Montreal, found myself a low-key job at a cinema and vowed to spend my down-time writing.

In October of that year a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. It sounded like the perfect challenge for the newly liberated me. 50,000 words in one month. The task seemed colossal. Ridiculous. Especially for someone who’d only written short stories and needed to balance every five minutes of writing with 20 minutes of mindless playtime.

I thought NaNoWriMo might be the perfect solution to my lack of focus. Patience is not among my stronger characteristics and the allure of short stories was my ability to bang them out and have something to show for my efforts after a few days – a week. The prospect of producing an entire novel in a month seemed like a huge reward for the lazy.

And so I signed up. The first week was bliss. I banged out well over a thousand words a day. I could do this. I was meant to do this. I felt like a writer! Powerful and creative.

But then week two rolled around and the ideas I’d planned weren’t enough to sustain the pace. My ideas withered under the word count demands and my output dropped from over a thousand daily words to hundreds. The less I wrote the more discouraged I felt, the more discouraged I felt, the fewer ideas I could summon to put down. It was a downward cycle – probably the same experience full-time writers go through, but on fast-forward.

I gave up at 30,000 words. Threw in the towel. Cut my losses.

But, it had been a great learning experience. I had banged out enough words to know that my idea didn’t have the legs to carry it the full length of a novel. A helpful discovery. I had also learned that:

(1) I was built for long projects,

(2) my characters were more vivid if I spent every day with them,

(3) that editing slows the process

(4) that a mixture of advance plot and blue sky pantsying worked for me

The following year I had another try. Failed again. I rinsed and repeated in 2008. And became a NaNo winner. I’m totally addicted to the annual challenge now. Some years work out better than others but it’s always a fun exercise.