Tomorrow is November! In years past, Thanksgiving was all November had to offer, with its wet weather and dark days.
Then three years ago on Halloween, I (Cami) signed up for NaNoWriMo. I was sitting at Starbucks drinking my double short one-pump-of-sugar-free cinnamon dolce soy latte checking my email. I’m on about a hundred emailing lists for writers, and someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned National Novel Writing Month. I Googled it. For years I’d seen signs posted in yards reading, “My kid is doing NaNoWriMo,” or other such toutings of participation. I knew there was some novel writing shenanigans going on, but I didn’t realize there was an annual national movement more than 300,000 strong happening right under my nose.
I discovered that NaNoWriMo.org is actually a national nonprofit organization which sponsors activities and encouragement every year for would-be writers to complete 50,000 words toward a rough draft of a novel in 30 days.
Once I knew what it was, what could I do? I signed up. I filled in my account details with a novel I’d started a decade earlier before I knew how to to push through writer’s block or produce “shitty first draft” manuscript (a la Anne Lamott). I’d been stuck after the first 10,000 words of my novel, revising and reworking them endlessly. But I did have an outline somewhere of how I thought the book would unfold, so I searched it out, hopefully placed it next to my computer, and the next morning, I dug in.
To keep track of how many words I’d written each session, I changed the color of the font I was using every time I started fresh. I sat in my living room day after day, placed my cursor at the end of the sentence where I’d left off the night before, closed my eyes and started to type. The reason I closed my eyes is that I didn’t want to tempt myself to fix anything—not even spelling. I wanted to get through the story, once and for all.
As the days raced by (and they DID go fast) I posted my progress on nanowrimo.org and kept an eye on my friend Andrea’s progress too. I didn’t want her to beat me to the end, but to stay motivated we issued challenges to one another (“First one to 20,000 words gets a free drink.” “Whoever writes the fewest number of words this week has to buy dinner on Friday.”). I was surprised at how showing up to the page whether I felt like it or not moved the story along. Of course, showing up is what I did while I was writing my memoir, but progress on this story had eluded me for years. Now the plot was unfurling through my fingertips as if it had been waiting no farther up than my knuckles all along. My characters didn’t do what I thought they would do, to tell you the truth. They actually took a pretty dark turn. And one of my characters emerged as a stronger voice than I’d originally given her and took over the story.
I reached 50,000 words and brought my novel to the end of it’s narrative by November 30! And I was so glad to finally be “done.”
The next year (last year) I undertook two projects for NaNoWriMo. One was awesome, one was not. The not so awesome project was that I went back to the same novel. I thought I could revise and somehow track “new” words as I went through the month. This didn’t work at all. I learned that November is for rough drafts. The rest of the year is for revisions (I further learned that I didn’t actually like my charaters very much and began to wonder if perhaps that original novel had run its course for the time being).
The successful project last year was that I set up the framework for a round robin novel with all y’all.
Last year’s round robin novel ws so much fun! I don’t know about you, but I take my writing pretty serously most of the time. Writing together with other members of my community—far and wide, since we had chapter writers from across the whole country—turned out to be such a playful exprience. All day every day, I would anxiously await the arrival in my email in box of the newest installment in the lives of the family Laura had created with her first chapter. And because we had two versions of last year’s novel going, I had to laugh at myself as I confused the two stories in my mind. The joy and challenge of last year’s communal novel, I dare say, was shared by all who participated.
This year, I promised myself I would do a new novel of my own (“buddy” me on the nanowrimo.org so we can share progress with one another if you’re doing your own novel) AND repeat the happy chaos of our round robin project with all of you.
So, here we go, friends. The first chapter is up. The first many authors are in place (though we still need writers for the second half of the month in each version of the novel). And we have a date to read our final product at Village Books in early December (the 9th, I believe, but I’ll confirm and post later). Get your keyboards ready, brew your coffee, and let’s get to it.
PS: Red Wheelbarrow will sponsor some afternoon and after work “write outs” throughout the month. Check our facebook page for details. Cheers. -Cami