I am going to try something exciting and unprecedented this November: National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo for short. The official goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. But people have expanded it to all kinds of genres and lengths from poetry to book proposals. The real point is to come together and write!
Ghosts of stories past
While I have diaried and blogged for upwards of 20 years at this point, I actually preferred writing fiction as a child. Most of it qualified as fan fiction. And there was also that one hundred-page story I wrote in fourth grade about “The Day It Rained Candy” that really had nothing to do with candy by page 20 but my lovely supportive teacher kept reading anyway. (Wherever you are, Mrs. Buckmaster, hopefully enjoying a blissful retirement, thank you.) Regardless, I loved creating characters and plots and worlds. By high school, though, I had abandoned most creative writing in favor of academic essays, occasional bad teenage poetry, and frequent really bad teenage blogging. I took one fiction writing workshop in college and was super self-conscious the whole time, despite my instructor’s encouragement and constructive feedback.
It feels a bit scary to try an unfamiliar medium, particularly one that requires much more consistency and forethought than a quick blog post or even a personal essay. This is my third or fourth attempt at Nanowrimo, and I’ve never finished a single one. (My longest “novel” got to 5,555 words.) Previous forays lasted no more than two weeks before I got distracted or bored. I’m also just really bad at doing the same thing consistently each day. (And this was before I had to operate a household of 3 people, yikes.)
Plans for the present story
So this year I am trying to do a few things differently. I attended a STORY regional workshop in Chicago back in March, and left with more inspiration to try fiction than I’ve had in many years. The workshop helped me clarify the kinds of stories and characters I like and dislike. I also learned about the importance of planning and process in storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, good stories don’t happen by accident. Some authors let their characters tell their own stories, others are more plot-driven, but all of them are intentional in their work. I found one story that I really wanted to tell and then went looking for structure to help me tell it.
The snowflake method
My writer pal Chandi (who is married to a former colleague who teaches creative writing for a living) recommended the snowflake method for novel-writing. The gist of this method is to start small and build upon what you have until a full story emerges. So I started by writing a one-sentence summary of my story. (This can actually be way harder than it sounds.) Then I expanded that sentence to a five-sentence summary that described the setup, main disasters, and ending of the story. After that, I expanded each sentence into a paragraph, each paragraph into a full page (okay, mine were just longer paragraphs), built out character sheets, and wrote summaries of the story from different characters’ perspectives. My final product was a spreadsheet of “scenes” that I will use to guide my writing process.
This may not sound super romantic but I know I need this kind of structure. I used to try and write however the spirit moved me, and that just doesn’t work for me. Knowing approximately what I want to write about each day will help a lot. I don’t know if I actually need 50,000 words to tell my story, so my goals will be based on these scenes. My story has 22 scenes, and conveniently enough, there are 22 weekdays in November. (Weekends will be for catchup, which I’m sure I’ll need.)
Time and place
Routine is a funny thing for me. I need it to survive, but maintaining it always takes more energy than I expect. I am probably not going to try to create a new habit for Nanowrimo, like getting up an hour early to write. (Sleep and exercise are my non-negotiables so I do not kill people.) The one thing that is consistent (almost) every day is my child’s naptime, so I’m going to reserve that for Nanowrimo. The scenes are short enough that I should be able to knock each one out in about two hours.
I’ve decided to write this first draft longhand. Almost all of my work requires the computer already, so I want this to be a break from that. And I am easily distractible if the Internet is nearby. But I also want to be able to track my word count in order to participate in the Nanowrimo community, so I bought a Rocketbook notebook. (Because I needed a reason to buy more stationery.) The Rocketbook App can scan notebook pages, transcribe handwriting to digital text, and send text to email, Google Drive, Evernote, and more. Plus it’s erasable and reusable! Hopefully this will solve a number of problems for me:
- Keep me off the computer and Internet while working on this project.
- Save me time transcribing my own writing to typed text.
- Force me to keep writing and not edit too much in the first round.
In all likelihood, I should probably only zap my pages on the weekend and maybe even force myself not to edit or make any corrections in this round. My other major stumbling block, besides getting distracted by external forces, seems to be getting stuck in the weeds of editing while I’m writing.
I have no delusions that I will ever officially publish this particular story. Mostly, I just want to prove to myself that I can actually write something more than 1,000 words long that makes sense and isn’t boring (to me or the reader). I may share quotes or passages on this blog or, more likely, on my Instagram. Hopefully I will be able to share some reflections on the process along the way, but more likely than not, you’ll get a roundup at the end, or maybe two months later. (Just keeping expectations realistic!) I do hope that the practice of writing will take hold. I’ve been doing a lot of web design and maintenance projects this year, which I’m not complaining about because the money is good and I do enjoy it, but writing will always be my first love. Thanks for sharing it with me.