Yes, I’m one of the (semi) crazy ones. This year, over-committed and over-caffeinated, I joined hundreds of thousands of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) writers worldwide. By signing on, authors accept the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month. That’s a commitment of 1,667 words every day, rain or shine, despite relatives, work, school, and national holidays.
With several novel ideas rattling around in my brain, I settled on penning the first book of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic trilogy set in Russia and Siberia. The heroine, the daughter of a legendary female assassin, reluctantly steps into the same role when her mother dies at the hands of an unknown assailant. Nadia (my heroine) accepts the duty, in part, to protect her younger brother, but largely, to avenge the death of her beloved parent. What she discovers, in her quest to right the wrong, are decades of ugly lies buried in layers of well-polished truth.
I began writing the story for National Novel Writing Month with a rough sketch of my characters, half a dozen pages of outline, and just a vague understanding of the history, language, culture, and people of Russia. I realized, within a matter of days, that I was not prepared. I needed months of research. Maybe years. But, I had a choice. Quit. Or press on.
I’m not one to back down from a commitment. Or a personal challenge. Which is what NaNoWriMo represents, at the most basic level. Can we do it? Can we finish? And yes, lots of authors — many, many more talented than I am — write 1,667 words in a morning, followed by another 1,667 in the afternoon. Every day. Of every month.
After all, no one needs NaNoWriMo to start or finish a novel. But, in the midst of work, school, kids, and life, sometimes, a kickstart is needed. And a little challenge can make magic happen.
Here’s what I learned in my 30 days of November writing:
- Story must live in the heart and imagination. For more than a year, I’d carried the idea of writing a dystopian trilogy about a young, female assassin in post-apocalyptic Russia. It was a drastic departure from the suspense novels I’d written over the past few years; the women’s fiction on which I’d begun my writing career. But still, the dystopian trilogy permeated my thoughts, crept into my daydreams. The story needed to be written. And NaNoWriMo seemed the appropriate place and time to begin building it. There is, truly, no time like the present. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
- Research enriches details and story tenfold. As I wrote, I researched. I read about the many stops along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, with branches extending into China, Mongolia, and North Korea. I analyzed Russian architecture and elaborate government structure; examined historic sites and watched documentaries about families existing in tiny Siberian villages. I read and wrote about the Ural Mountains, Red Square in Moscow; the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and Gorky Park. And there is so much more to be explored.
- Time management makes all the difference. I’ll be honest. Writing and finishing novels is not for sissies. It can take months. Sometimes years. And I’ve done it several times over. Writing and finishing NaNoWriMo 2018 required dedication. Getting up at 4:30 am. Drinking coffee. Finishing at 6:30 am. Drinking more coffee. Timing my departure from the house so that I could arrive at work coherent and with enough caffeine to function for the rest of the day. And I say this, not out of a need for empathy, but of illustration. Anyone can go without sleep, for a time. But if you truly want to write, you will find a way to write. Time and sleep be damned.
As of this moment, book one in my trilogy has yet to be finished. But I have NaNoWriMo to thank for a solid start and a shot of inspiration.
What about you? Love NaNo? Never heard of it? Hate it? Can’t decide? I’d love to hear about your experience in 2018 or any other year. Happy writing!