NaNo-2015-Winner-BannerFor the first time in my life, I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNoWriMo is an online community of writers who come together in November of every year, for at least the past 15 years (maybe longer), and make it their goal that for this month they will start writing a new novel and write at least 50,000 words.

This equates to 1667 words per day.

Thirteen days into the month I cracked 50,000 words! 51,348 to be precise!

My total for the month? 116,364 words!

Final Day Stats 2

This was mind-blowing to me; in fact, the whole month was mind-blowing to me, because it was also my first attempt at writing fiction. Start to Finish.

Sure, I have many, many outlines for fiction stories that I’ve written over the years. Maybe 10 pages at most each, some even have a few scenes outlined, or some dialogue written, but I’ve never stuck to a story from Once Upon A Time to The End.

As a result I have lots of outlines with no real content.

Having the challenge of one month, and a minimum of 1667 words a day has changed my life.

At least I hope it has changed my life, how many days to form a habit?

Since November 1, I’ve written an average of over 3,000 words a day – every day. My personal goal was 2,000 words a day – because I like rounded numbers and 1667 was too messy for my mind to follow.

And I stuck to the story! Instead of writing non-fiction, I’ve been writing from the point of view of the characters, and I’ve been building a world that is different from our own.

It’s SciFi/Fantasy, with a hint of romance.

I discovered NaNoWriMo about three years ago but have never participated. Each year I thought “maybe next year”. I told myself that I had “too many things to do” to give myself a few hours a day for writing. Really, I was just plain scared to fail, fiction was the golden ticket in my mind and I didn’t know if I could write fiction – so I didn’t want to try and not succeed.

In the middle of October this year, I received an email about the NaNoWriMo and once again I went to the website link and checked it out.

This year – I got excited.

This year, I decided to do it.

This year, I was in a place bordering on despair about my life and its direction. Skyrocketing house prices, skyrocketing rent prices, no adoption match, though even if I got one no livable housing within my budget for an expanded family, no prospective dates on the horizon, and a job that is completely 100% unfulfilling.

I was about at the end of my line.

For months I’d been asking, “what is the point?” and “what is my life about?”

I needed change. I needed something fulfilling in my life – desperately. I was becoming jaded, reclusive, unhappy.

Then the email arrived and I opened it. I have to admit when I saw the title of the email, “The glorious insanity that is NaNoWriMo…” I immediately thought, “pfft…” and planned to trash it without reading. That was where my head was at.

At the last second I opened it with a “what could it hurt to look?” attitude. Then I read the email, clicked the links, and spent a few hours reading the information on the website, testimonials, articles, pep-talks, forum discussions. I devoured the site pretty much start to finish.

While feeling on high from all of this reading – I signed up.

This year I would give it a try.

The number of words, 1,667, didn’t scare me, heck, if you’ve read any of the blog posts on my site you will know I can be a bit wordy! I write emails longer than that, and guaranteed this post will be longer too.

But sticking to a fiction story did scare me.

I wasn’t certain I was cut out to write fiction, and I had come to terms with it.

Still, at least once a week, sometimes every day, I have another idea for a fiction story. Sometimes the ideas become so persistent that I write another outline just to quiet the voice. One story in particular had been formulating in my mind since September and I had not yet committed it to paper.

Maybe it was the one that would see me through to The End.

It might sound insane, but signing up to the website was nerve wracking for me. If I commit to something, I commit to it – and I did not want to hate November!

As a part of the sign up process it asks you to enter a title for the book you are going to write and a short synopsis or even a sample of the book (to be added during the month). I left that section blank.

Over the days that followed, while waiting for November 1 to roll around, I read even more of the forum posts, and re-read the previous year’s pep-talks, I also watched pod casts from writing coaches on the site.

Panic started to grip me and I wondered if I could write memoir instead, and searched the site for information. Sure, you could, they call those participants rebels. I devoured the “rebel” part of the site and right up until October 31, I considered joining them.

However, the fiction story swimming in my head had been growing and I’d been jotting down some of the notes.

So I decided.

I would start with the fiction story, and if I ran out of steam I would switch to the memoir. After all, the point of the month was to create a writing habit, and to write daily.

On the first day, November 1, I downloaded the free trial version of writing software called Scrivener by Literature and Latte. This was the best thing I’ve done all year, and has changed my writing life completely. I don’t think I would have stuck to writing daily,  enjoyed it as much, or made as much progress without this program. I am truly and completely in love. I will never go back. Thank you Scrivener!!!

I spent most of the day learning the ins and outs of the program, watching tutorials, and navigating screens. Then I started writing. I made it to 2,813 words that first day and was pretty impressed with myself.

There have been zero days where I wrote less than 3,000 words after that first day and some days were well over 5,000, my average is just below 4,000.

My daily writing timeline seems to be about 2,000 words an hour. And mostly I write for between 1.5 to 2.5 hours. (at the end of a 2.5 hour session my legs are usually numb beneath me and all of my basic needs, water, toilet, food, are in dire straits! I’m going to have to work on this!)

On days where I had a busy schedule, I sometimes got up early to write my 2,000 word minimum (usually going just over) and then came back to it later if at all possible.

What I learned about myself is that some days I have just not wanted to write. The night that I cracked 50,000 words for example, I put off starting until nearly 7:30pm and then I wrote until close to 10pm. Because once I did sit down and get over the initial hump of picking up the stream of thoughts, I start to flow with it and hours passed.

It feels SO good to have my hands in the creative mix, walking with and flowing with my characters. Learning about them, journeying with them.

Why then, would I ever not want to start? And why would I have spent so many years avoiding it altogether?

These are questions that I find truly intriguing. Is it human nature to baulk against the things that would bring us joy? Is it fear of success?

Is it just me?

A friend of mine is a graphic designer and she loves designing, but she too has described the same situation. Some nights she knows she has design work to do and puts it off, and off, and off, until she has to start it or miss her deadline. And then once she’s doing it she’s in love, in the zone, and works for hours on a high from the thrill of creation.

So why do we put these things off? The things that make us feel so alive and so in the mix of all that life could be for us?

Until NaNoWriMo, I would have said – in fact I HAVE said – it is inspiration. That I could only write when inspired to write.

Now I’m seeing that is an excuse of the laziest order. Damn!

Sure, there are days when I’m feeling super inspired, and the words flow from the moment I sit down, before really, and in my two hour session I write over 5,000 words and I feel like that whole scene will not even need editing (haha…perhaps when I read it back that wont be the case). But the days that I was feeling zero inspiration, and zero desire to pick up my keyboard and start writing, I still picked up my keyboard and started, and I still found the zone, and I still came away feeling satisfied.

Satisfaction is greatly underrated. Or has been by me in my life.

My paying job is completely uninspired and, as a way to spend the precious hours of my life, it is enormously unsatisfying. Some days it kills me to be there. For now it pays me relatively well and is allowing me to save for adoption, so I will continue to do it.

But feeling the relief of doing something every day that is satisfying and often even exhilarating is incredible.

And it doesn’t even cost me anything!

Many of the suggested “how to guides” for getting the most out of NaNoWriMo have said to write without editing as you go. This has been quite freeing for me too. With blog posts, emails, user manuals, journal entries, memoir, and anything else that is non-fiction, I often edit as I go. Stopping and starting, correcting words as they underline in the red squiggles, fixing passive sentences, and rearranging my words to make more sense to me and – I hope – to others. Then, for blog posts, I go back and read through several times, usually aloud, to cull any superfluous words (don’t scoff, these posts start out much – much – longer!), and tidy it up before posting.

For the NaNoWriMo, I ignored all of the squiggly lines, sometimes I wanted to erase a whole section and rewrite it, but I remind myself “that is what December is for” quoting one of the help files on the site. November is for writing, December is for editing. Just get everything out there.

Another thing I found interesting is that the storyline that I thought I was going to follow that had been brewing in my head since September, has taken several turns I didn’t anticipate.

The characters seem to have their own ideas about their world and the direction of their lives. It’s been surprising and delightful to flow with them. I’m not entirely sure how it will all come together in the end, but I am absolutely trusting that it will. And even if it doesn’t, I’m loving getting to know them, and to live these scenes with them. Some have made me laugh, some have made me cry, others have made me angry… and it’s been a pleasure of emotion the whole way through.

My process appears to be writing in scenes. Scenes come to me and I follow them until they are done. Then the next day another scene. Maybe not in order, some are still disjointed from the story as I know it so far, and there are gaping holes between them, but this is a first draft and that’s what second, third, fourth, and any other drafts are for – piecing together, rewriting, and filling in the holes.

My story is not complete, and I’m not going to lie – there are at least 60,000 words that will end up in the trash (maybe more!!) – but I have an amazing foundation from which to build, and an almost complete first draft.

I just have to get my characters off this planet and safely back home, that’s all!!

Most importantly, I will have a daily habit that I don’t plan on breaking any time soon.

Suddenly, all of those outlines I have don’t seem as daunting, they are starting to even seem possible – along with a multitude of new fiction ideas that have come to me this month.

NaNoWriMo helped me feel like a writer for 32 days (because I did not stop on December 1), and gave me hope that I will someday become an author.

Wouldn’t that be wild! For me, it would be a long-time dream come true.

If I ever do get the chance to have children then I want to use this lesson to encourage them to do the things that make them feel satisfied, fulfilled, excited, exhilarated and alive when they do them. And now, with a new daily habit and perhaps a saleable novel on the horizon, I can be the example of what that means and how it looks.

How about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Is there something else that you love to do that you put off, even though you know it will be exhilarating and satisfying to do?

Warm smiles and Love,

Ali Jayne


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