On Fresh Starts and Writing Adventures

Today, October 1, marks the traditional start to the official NaNoWriMo season. In years past, this entailed a day of anticipation while the event’s websites would be brought down, updated, refreshed, renewed and ultimately re-launched, unveiling new functionality and a fresh, clean slate for the several hundred thousand enthusiastic aspiring novelists to use to begin their new noveling adventures.

2014 may or may not see that extended, pulse-stimulating downtime of anticipation today, but nonetheless when the calendar flips to October 1 the hardcore NaNoWriMo enthusiasts among us can’t help but feel just a little bit more excited than normal. This is The Beginning, the start of something potentially new, something potentially awesome, something definitely not easy but something absolutely amazing.

Lest I get ahead of myself, let me provide a quick introduction to NaNoWriMo and my own experiences with it. For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 as a quirky challenge to encourage (read: provide plenty of guilt motivation) to finally write that book we all say we’re going to write someday. I won’t attempt to re-record the complete history of NaNoWriMo, as this has been done for us already: NaNoWriMo History

The rules were simple: Create a new, lengthy (50,000 word) work of fiction.

Oh, and do it in 30 days (November 1-30).

“Winning” is defined as completing that 50,000 word challenge by the last minute of November 30th.

Over the years, the rules have changed slightly from time to time, allowing for “NaNo Rebels” to continue works-in-progress or allowing for a more relaxed definition of the word “novel” or even “fiction”. The goal, however, has always been the same: write, write, write!

Personally, I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since November, 2006. That first year, I crossed that 50,000 word threshold just before midnight on November 30 (less than 15 minutes to spare) and it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life (I kid you not). Sure, the novel I wrote wasn’t great, and isn’t ever going to be great, but that’s not really the point. The point was to write it. When I started the novel, the idea felt amazing and workable. It felt like something I’d like to write someday. Rather than keep thinking about doing it someday, I wrote my amazing, workable idea into a novel. When I finished it… well, some novels just don’t work out, I suppose.

I’ve had various levels of success each year since then, with 2014 marking my 9th year of participating. I’ve “won” every year, but of the 8 completed novels, I’d say only two or three have any shot of going anywhere beyond the Microsoft Word documents that currently contain them. That said, they ALL have sections which may work (or have worked) as short stories or as launching points for a different novel someday.

Today we at Today’s Author kick off our annual NaNoWriMo Prep Month. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be putting together posts to help you prepare for your noveling efforts in November should you choose to tackle this event. But make no mistake: the things we are talking about are not related solely to NaNoWriMo. In fact, several of our authors have never and will never participate in it. Our goal is to help you plan for any project, short or long, to help you prepare for writing your next big first draft, to help you complete your first draft. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to write 50,000 words in November or 13,000 words, the goal is the same: start, write, finish.

So, let’s look at our calendar and take advantage of the clean, new month. If you’ve been working through a rough patch of writer’s block, let’s look for a renewal. Clean the slate and take a step back. Over the coming weeks, consider ideas you perhaps put on the backburner in the past and pull them out again. If you’ve been thinking about taking a stab at writing in a genre or style you don’t usually write… start learning the rules of that genre and generating ideas.  Give yourself permission to take a chance on these ideas, different styles, different formats… Stretch yourself and you may find a part of writing you’ve been missing (my example of this would be that in 2007 I wrote a novel that falls into the fantasy genre… a genre I never had interest in writing.  It is my favorite novel so far and has spawned a whole set of fantasy stories and ideas.  And it was on a whim that I decided to do that for NaNoWriMo 2007.)  We’ll help provide you with the tools to outline your new work (if outlining and planning are your thing) or to figure out where you’re going to dive in and start writing by the seat of your pants (if that’s your preferred writing poison). Either way, you’ll come out of this effort with ideas, plans and hopefully an enthusiasm to try NaNoWriMo for the first time, to do it again for the 3rd or 9th or 15th time, or to just write something new.

We can start right now, today. Here in the comments, anyone who has attempted NaNoWriMo in the past can share successes and failures. Those who haven’t tried it can discuss their successes and failures with writing anywhere or any time – Are you a seat of the pants writer who gets lost and can’t finish the story when it gets long? Are you a planner who loses interest after spending weeks outlining plots and characters? Do you have trouble keeping the idea that your first draft is a first draft and instead of just writing it you get bogged down in the details of editing it? Throw your questions, ideas and concerns out here in the comments – our community will definitely have ideas or answers and perhaps a post later in the month will address them in more detail as well.

T-Minus 30 days to NaNoWriMo 2014!

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9 thoughts on “On Fresh Starts and Writing Adventures

  1. For everyone else, New Year’s Day is on January 1st. For us writers, it’s on October 1st – the promise of something new, exciting and adventurous. I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, and I am not sure that I will participate this year. It’s not because I don’t believe in the idea. I believe it is a brilliant motivator and coming together of like-minded individuals within a community.

    I may not be participating because I am not sure that I “want” to create a novel just yet. It’s not that I am shying away from the challenge. I am just enjoying the short story realm at the present moment and still wrapping my head around the elements that make a piece of fiction come to life. Perhaps we need a NaShoStoWriMo (although it doesn’t roll off the tongue) where an anthology of short stories is compiled over a month. But, as you say, the most important thing is to write, write, write. Whether it is poetry, short stories, personal essays, or novels, continue to write.

    For me, the most difficult part of any writing process is remembering to write first and edit later. The second most difficult part is filling in the gaps of a plot, character development, or setting that seem to be lacking. As a recovering perfectionist, it is difficult to not “force” the issue instead of easing back on the pressure and letting ideas meander through the psyche. In any event, this is a great time of the year for writers, whether participating in NaNoWriMo or not, and I think everyone at Today’s Author for sharing your wisdom with writers everywhere 😉

    • Whether or not you are going to write a novel, you can look at NaNoWriMo as a means to an end… use it as a community that can help you to write not one short story but, say, 20 short stories in the next month. Or 10. Or 5. Set a goal and use NaNoWriMo as a means to achieving it. The forums, the community, the tools that are available… they are geared toward writing “a novel” but the reality is they will work to help you achieve any writing goal you might have. Good luck with it!

      And I believe we all share that difficulty of write first, edit later. NaNoWriMo certainly has helped me get past that one, though some years it is easier than others to kick the inner editor out.

  2. Good background, Rob. I don’t do NaNoWriMo–and really don’t get it. But through your eyes, I can see its appeal.

  3. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for four years. I’ve achieved the goal of 50K words each year. And yes, I agree it is fun, challenging and exciting! This past year I was ahead of the game, writing day and night (I’m retired). I was exhausted by the time the end of November rolled around. By the time Christmas rolled around I was still exhausted, and by the 27th of December I had heart failure and ended up in the hospital in need of a pace maker. I don’t blame the experience, but it does serve as a reminder that words are important and I want to get as much down as I possibly can. Am I participating this year? The answer is no, but I am committing to editing and finishing a novel from last year’s challenge. Happy writing to everyone, it’s an awesome experience!

  4. i’ve done nano twice and even though i didn’t “win” either time, i got real usable writing done. i just finished the novel i started last november. i think you have to define winning for yourself.

  5. Rob, you’ve suggested great reasons for folks getting on the NaNoWriMo express, motivating folks to try something new and challenging.
    NaNoWriMo doesn’t appeal to me for several reasons. Most importantly, I’m editing and revising 3 novels. Any time I have for writing must go to those WsIP. Then I need to get serious and organized about querying, for me a process close to brushing my pet alligator’s teeth. OK, I don’t have a pet alligator but I also don’t have a file for NaNoWriMo.
    Good luck, everyone. Whether you’re writing the Great American Novel or touching up your current work, I wish you (and myself!) the success of gratification for a job well done – “done” being the operative word here.

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