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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

One Month Novel, One Big Journey: NaNoWriMo

The Great American Novel (or German or Canadian or French or Insert-Your-Nation-Here).  The desire to be a writer of one is so strong a desire and so fervent a goal for many that the phrase is both cliché and the symbol of futility.  Writing, particularly in the hallowed form of the novel, is considered to be impossible.  Even among those who write for some or all of their living (myself included,) the idea of writing a novel is both insane and incredible—and usually something that gets shuffled to the “someday” list.

For many, though, “someday” takes the shape of the month of November where for thirty days solid massive amounts of people from all over the globe come together in all our disparate places to take up the challenge of writing that lofty novel in one month’s time.   The rules are simple: write a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November.  Everything else is pretty relaxed, but the quantitative goal is hard and fast.  That’s the minimum.  Anything more is like getting an A+ on an exam.  Anything less is not winning, though even if you don’t achieve the goal you aren’t made to feel like a loser.  It’s hard, it’s wild, and it’s absolutely insane and every year I pencil-up and take the challenge that is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

Image Credit: National Novel Writing Month

Image Credit: National Novel Writing Month

The quick and dirty details of NaNoWriMo are pretty cool.  As is posted on the website, “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.”  It was started by writer Chris Baty in 1999 with just a handful of people and has morphed into a global event with hundreds of thousands of participants, a non-profit organization that helps to provide writing fluency in schools, and the starting point for several well-known novels (Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants were both NaNo novels.)  People gather within their geographical communities to write and support each other.  It’s fun and interesting.  It’s something I look forward to every year.

And it’s the hardest thirty days of my year, every time.

I started doing NaNoWriMo in earnest in 2003.  I had heard of it the year before, in 2002, while finishing my final semester in college.  I have always seen myself as a writer and even though I was both studying journalism and working within the journalism field as both a newspaper writer and a radio broadcaster I didn’t consider those things truly writing.  In my eyes writing was fiction, was stories unreal brought to life and given souls.  Writing was being a novelist and there was nothing I wanted more in this world.  My biggest problem was that I never could get out a manuscript and my huge, oversize desk in my cozy college apartment had drawers that had evolved into the graveyard where stories and dreams are buried.  The idea of writing a draft in a month appealed to me, but college had my attention.  I wasn’t free to sort things out until 2003 when, a graduated and productive “adult” I decided to go full gusto into the event.  Thirty days, fifty thousand words.  I got this.  I even signed up to be a local leader (Municipal Liason in NaNo parlance.)  Chris Baty even said that not having a plot wasn’t an issue.  Just write.  Just do it.

I hit the goal in 2003, but it wasn’t a story.  In the end it turned out being a weird mash up of some story elements and a lot of notes and stream of consciousness weird stuff and the story was completely unreadable.  My writing was pretty bad, too.  The draft, at least full of words, hit the desk drawer only to see the light of day when I moved.  In 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 I failed to reach target. In 2008 I used the event to write my MFA thesis as the goal for the event and the word count required for school were the same.  I hit target, packed off my thesis, and promised both myself and my adviser that I would continue the story.  2009 and 2010 came, but I did nothing.  2011?  I popped up half-heartedly at a write-in, long since having slipped away from being a Municipal Liason.  I popped up again in 2012 and gave it another stab only to have another failure.

December 1, 2012 I put my novel dreams into the same drawer that held the corpses of all my novels and the ghosts of my dreams.  Chris Baty was wrong.  Not having a plot was a problem!  I couldn’t turn off my inner editor!  I couldn’t insert enough zombie space ninjas to save my story and keep me going.  I was done.  This was defeat.  I was not a writer.  Then, over the course of the next year, three things happened.  The first was I discovered Gennifer Albin’s book Crewel.  Gennifer Albin had written the book during NaNoWriMo, but more than that, she had done within the local community I was in.  She was One of Us and suddenly the idea of success wasn’t distant and removed.  It was, literally, right down the street.  The second was that my long-time friend Robin Burks wrote her novel, Zeus Inc. during the 2012 NaNo, then self-published it, then got it picked up by a real publisher and started work on more novels.  Here were two women who I either knew nearly  my whole life (Burks) or was geographically connected to (Albin) who had actually made it.  Success was now at my doorstep, maybe not for me, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t access it.  And the third thing?  I started going through my graveyard drawer.

Reading your own old work sucks.  It’s impossible to turn off the critic and there were more than a few pages of cringing at myself.  And yet, with each draft and each page I turned I saw something that I never would have seen had it not been for NaNoWriMo: each year’s draft was better than the year’s before it.  The words flowed better and the phrases had more craft.  The stories, though lacking something, were more sophisticated with each year.  And the number of pages that were worth something  grew and grew and grew.  Maybe I had been wrong.  Maybe there was a novel inside of me and, as Chris Baty asserted, the world needed it.

It is now half of the way through 2013’s NaNoWriMo and I am on track to hit word count and, possibly, even finish the story that I’m writing this year.  The story is a mess and will require huge amounts of editing to make it worthwhile, but I know it’s just a draft.  I feel the settling of a true habit for writing taking over by the time the month ends I am positive that I am going to need my morning writing sessions the same way I need my coffee.  This year the doubt is gone.  I know I’m a writer.  The work is hard.  Coming to the blank screen every day is stressful and weird and there are moments when I have absolutely no idea what story I’m trying to tell.  Even with an outline and a plan there is no way to predict what is going to happen, but I come anyway and when the dust settles I am going to have a manuscript.  It’s one that I’m going to shop around and try to find someone who wants to represent it and then get it published and even if that never happens I can still say I wrote a novel and it was great.  I wrote my Great American Novel and it wasn’t the characters or the writing that made it so; it’s that it was my journey. That’s what National Novel Writing Month is ultimately about: writing your story because the world needs it.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have words to put out for the day.  I’m a writer after all.

(Want to try it out?  You can do a lot even with 15 days!  Go to nanowrimo.org  You can also follow my progress here.)

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  1. A Novel Idea: National Novel Writing Month | The Hudsucker - November 13, 2014

    […] 50,000 word novel from November 1st through 30th. Nicole Drum has covered the history of the event here. This article focuses upon the process of writing that novel and making it from the Day 1 until Day […]

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