The Month I Learned to Write

I can’t remember when or how I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. For me, it’s one of those things in life that seemingly always existed, though I know that’s not the case. Chris Baty founded it in 1999 when he and a small group of writer friends challenged themselves to write one novel each in 31 days. Nowadays, the challenge is specifically to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which is still quite a lot. 50,000 words is approximately 113 pages. If you print it out in standard paperback format, you will have a 226-page book, more or less.

I’ve entertained the notion of participating in NaNoWriMo since at least 2012. At least, that’s how old the website says my account is, though I can’t remember actually ever signing up. I’m not surprised I signed up back then, however. Since 2007, I’ve thrown around ideas in my head for a novel — an original, full-length story featuring characters I birthed in the Creative Writing class I took in senior year of high school. Those rascals, and their story, have evolved drastically since then, yet I’ve never committed any of my ideas to paper. I have plenty of notes, but an actual story? Scenes? Dialogue? Nothing. Every year’s NaNoWriMo enticed me to bring the story to life. And every year, I became too daunted, too uncertain, to actually try. My story demanded that I build a new world, navigate complex characters, and remain vigilant for plot holes. I felt overwhelmed by all that is required of an author.

This year, I compromised with myself. I told myself I would attempt NaNoWriMo, but on easier terms. I would allow myself to write something that filled me with ideas without burdening me with the task of creating a new world. To that end, I settled on Star Wars fanfiction. Admittedly, I was nervous about it — not about actually writing, but about the fact that my ideas were ultimately derivative works based on ideas someone else worked hard to bring to life. I wrote my first fanfiction when I was eight years old (it was Sailor Moon fanfiction, of course), and now I’m 27. “Shouldn’t I have outgrown this by now?” I asked a friend. “No? Do whatever you want,” she responded. So I did.

This past November, I won my first NaNoWriMo with 50,335 words of Star Wars fanfiction. And I couldn’t be prouder of myself. The sheer fact that I completed the challenge with a day to spare is enough reason to celebrate, but I also wrote content I’m actually quite proud of. I chose to create an anthology of short stories, and each story has the potential for greatness, even if they’re all rough first drafts right now. Some of them are more polished than others and only need superficial edits; some of them need whole scenes rewritten. But I’m happy with and proud of all of them. Originally, I wasn’t going to share any of them except with a couple very close friends. Now, though, I think I’ll put them up online — perhaps on a writing blog — once I’m finished with their revisions. They deserve to be read.

But perhaps the more valuable result of participating in NaNoWriMo was how much I learned about myself as a writer. Before starting the challenge, I wrote sporadically, and every story I wrote was approximately 1000 words or less. I left out descriptive details in favor of action and dialogue. Forcing myself to write 50,000 words required extra effort in providing those descriptions. I eventually learned when doing so was necessary or beneficial, and when it otherwise felt trite or repetitive. I also learned that the easiest way to bump up my word count was through dialogue. I learned quickly when that felt trite or repetitive, too. Not every scene requires explicit dialogue. Not every detail is relevant to the story.

Most importantly, I taught myself that I could write 50,000 words of content, period. Every time I added 10,000 words to my count, I couldn’t believe it. And the fact that 50,000 words roughly equates to a 226-page printed paperback means that if I want to write an original, full-length story, nothing can stop me. Nothing at all. Knowing that, I’ve decided I’m finally going to write the first draft of my novel next year.

I can hear you asking me now: “Will you write it for NaNoWriMo 2017, Ange?”

No, actually. Despite the benefits of participating in and completing the challenge, other areas of my life stagnated or fell apart during November. I devoted almost every waking moment to writing, so I stopped going to the gym, I cooked fewer meals, I let chores pile up. I didn’t play any video games for almost the entire month, and I stopped reading books after the first week. Writing consumed me, and while I produced a massive quantity of content, I became sick and tired of it by the end of the month. I expended too much effort in the last few days of November just opening Google Docs and spitting out a few hundred words at a time. If I want to make sure I don’t hate my own story by its last chapters, I’m going to have to pace myself over the whole year.

Please also look forward to the final draft of my Star Wars fanfiction anthology, A Fistful of Stars, in early 2017. I’ll share the link here and on social media so interested parties can read the stories online.

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