in which I write a novel in thirty days

Today is November 30, the last day of November.

Meaning it is also the last day of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Across the country, hundreds of almost novelists are furiously scrambling to get those last ten thousand words written on a barely readable draft they have composed over the past thirty days. And if your novel isn’t barely readable, you are doing it wrong.

I have attempted NaNoWriMo twice before this year without success. Once in a sort of misguided attempt my freshman year of college where I signed up for an account, and then totally forgot about it until around November 29, at which point I decided that I was already too far behind to catch up. Then again my senior year of college, when I was in that shaky “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-maybe-I’ll-write-books” phase. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo as sort of experiment to see if I could actually write a book. This was a total disaster – November of my senior year was the month the proverbial crap hit the proverbial fan in terms of pretty much everything. So after failing to write for the first week of November, I surrendered1.

Then it’s 2012. I had no expectation for finishing or even starting NaNoWriMo, primarily because grad school is just sort of an extended version of NaNoWriMo, in which you are constantly asked to write more than you think you can under an unreasonable deadline and it’s really stressful. But then I told the MT about NaNoWriMo, and to my very great surprise, she said, “I want to do it!” At which point, my big sister instincts sort of kicked in – both the “I must be the Gandalf to her Frodo and guide her on this quest” sort and the “anything you can do I can do better” sort. But mostly the first one. So I said okay, look, if you do, I’ll do it too.

And suddenly, my little sister and I, with two thousand miles  between us, were writing novels together.

Writing with the MT actually kept me on track. I felt like I was reporting to her, and when she got ahead of me, I felt a push to catch up. I knew I would never hear the end of it if she finished a novel and I did not. And just as much as my competitiveness kicked in, I also wanted to cheer her on, and she cheered me on. We sent each other our first chapters, and asked each other questions when we got stuck2. We frequently sent each other “I CAN’T DO THIS!” texts, and responded accordingly when the other was freaking out. We helped each other with names, and jokes, and settings, and just provided general encouragement and inspiration.

And really, without the MT, I would have given up. I would have quit, because this month was busy, and my novel was terrible.

But because of the MT, I finished.

So the result of NaNoWriMo is this: I wrote a terrible novel. A really terrible novel. An unreadably terrible novel. A novel that is so fantastically bad, I will probably never revise it. I’m just going to let it fester and gangrene in my folder until I amputate it3 in the form of deleting it permanently from my hard drive. But more importantly, I wrote a novel. In thirty days. On top of grad school and work and life. I made time each day for writing, which is something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life. I wrote in a genre outside my comfort zone4. I did not go back and edit, which is really hard for me. I did not plot ahead of time, which is also really hard for me, and resulted in my characters suddenly running off in a direction I did not intend.

Over the course of November, I wrote some really great lines5. I wrote some really terrible lines6. I wrote some utterly ridiculous lines solely for the purpose of making my future self laugh when I go back and reread everything7. I left myself a slew of snarky notes in regards to the quality of the manuscript8.

But the unexpected result of NaNoWriMo, and the best, was what I got out of doing it with the MT. We are far apart now, and so we don’t share things the same way we did when we were kids. Our experiences have become our own in many ways now, and as our lives have veered in two different directions, I feel myself more and more explaining my world rather than sharing it with her.

But for thirty wonderful days, we have occupied the same space in a way we haven’t since childhood. We have shared an experience across states and it made me feel closer to her9.

So thank you, NaNoWriMo, for giving me thirty days of literary abandon, a fantastically terrible zombie novel, and a better relationship with my sometimes-distant sister10.

  1. In the end, this was probably a good thing. The novel I was going to write for NaNoWriMo, I ended up writing a few months later and it turned out infinitely better than it would have been if I had written it quickly and grouchily during that hellish November.
  2. Me: I have a zombie problem. The MT: May I suggest a bazooka?
  3. Still in the zombie novel mindset. Sorry for the graphic metaphor.
  4. I might be the least likely person in history to write a zombie novel. I frequently texted the MT with basic zombie knowledge questions like, “Do zombies sleep?” “Do zombies understand English?” “Do zombies dream of brain-eating sheep?”
  5. “It was lighting through her soul, and Carolina Rose was seared, scorched, up in flames. Then, just smoke.”
  6. “Her heart was pounding, racing with the speed of something that moves really fast.” – see these are the sort of things you write when you can’t think of the right word and you are writing just to fill a word count.
  7. “Stiff Thompson was leaning against the bar, thumping his hook in time to the music.” This still makes me laugh every time.
  8. After the paragraph detailing the first kiss of hero and heroine – “I’m throwing up in my mouth a little.”
  9. *cue throwing up in mouth*
  10. Don’t tell her, and I will never admit to this if asked, but her novel is infinitely better than mine.
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2 thoughts on “in which I write a novel in thirty days

  1. Carson says:

    Way to go! That is quite an accomplishment! And might I venture to say, that letting your “characters run off in a direction you did not intend” is learning to be a great artist. Letting go of your own control is crucial. This reminded me of a sort-of-autobiography book I read called “Madeleine L’Engle Herself” that really touched me and is one of my favorite books because of the way she describes art, artists, and writing. You should check it out! (Along with your other 25 books from the library) :-)

  2. […] love it so much I even set my ill-fated Mormon hook-handed zombie hunter novel down there. You remember that monstrosity, don’t you? It feels strangely spiritual to me, like a sacred and secret place, though […]

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