Turning My November Around


Being a recent college grad is hard. Being a recent college grad since the economic shithole in 2009 is torture. Being a recent college grad since the economic shithole in 2009 who has no idea not only of life plans, but of any employment prospects in general, sucks.

This is where my life was a month and a half ago. In general, I was bored. Not a great place to be.

And then I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo’s website. I’d vaguely heard about the challenge, called National Novel Writing Month by those not in the know, to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And on a whim, I decided to do it. After all, if I couldn’t find time to write 1,667 words a day when I was dissatisfied with life, when would I be able to do it?


I already knew that I wanted to do historical fiction. So I combined two sparks of ideas I’d gotten while reading books on the 19th century into one woman’s life. And with eleven days to go before November, I began. I started researching railroads, clothing, and decades online. I took out primary source journals from the library. I bought an unlined fancy notebook and a nice pen to go with it, exclusively for NaNo. I looked up the oldest census records and made lists of the most common names. I prowled the historical fiction forums, trying to find others who were writing the same period. I stared at hundred-year-old maps, trying to piece them together in my mind. I sat on the train, drawing out a family tree for my main character, brainstorming period occupations, and trying to decide on a way to kill off a character. I even downloaded writing software (which is pretty helpful and rather awesome. It’s called Scrivener).

And then it was Halloween night. And I was writing. It went pretty well. I got the words out, and they were pretty good words. I had a pretty good idea of where my story was going. 1,667 words a day was hard, but not impossible. And then came the 5th day, when I struggled to get out 600 words of crap, and felt like I could never do anything.

Luckily, the next day, I went to a write-in. Which, when you describe it as eight people in a cafe typing away at their own laptops, sounds pretty dull. But it’s probably the most brilliant part of NaNo. I can write on my own, sure. But I long for social interaction, and writing, unfortunately, is a solitary endeavor. But as I learned in college, there’s nothing like camaraderie to make you feel better about something difficult, and nothing like peer pressure to make you keep going. It’s hard to articulate how much word sprints boosted my word count, and how cheered I felt about the massive task ahead of me when I left the weekly write-ins I attended. I wish I could have made it to more. But even that was amazing.

I’m proud to say that I was a pretty constant writer. Take a look at my word count graph if you don’t believe me. I tried to stop myself from researching -- well, researching too much. I ended up researching some really weird shit anyways.

Except that consistency didn’t just happen. I feel no shame in admitting that it was hard, pretty much every bit of the way. There were days when I didn’t know what was happening, and days where I didn’t want to know what was happening, and days where I just plain hated my novel. And even on the good days, getting to 1,667 words was a slog in which I spent a lot of time staring at my word count bar. If there was one thing that kept me going, though, it might have been the pep talk written a few years back by my new favorite person, Neil Gaiman:

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club. That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


And what can I say? I wrote. Not that I can say I wrote anything marvelous or wonderful, because I didn’t. Sure, there were some things that I thought were good, and some unexpected developments that I liked, and some characters that I grew to love. But on the whole, I stopped reading the previous day’s work because it made me shudder.

But I wrote, and that alone is something. Something of a tremendous accomplishment, actually. The last fictional thing I wrote ended up being 13,000 words -- but it took me four months. Before that, my last work dates to 2009. I have folders on my hard drive filled with Word documents from over the years with a completely brilliant first paragraph and then... nothing. I wanted to write a novel when I was 13. I ended up revising the first four chapters endlessly.

I made it to 50,111 words. I won. I actually won. I still haven’t quite gotten to the ending, though it’s planned and in sight. With any luck, I’ll finish it before Christmas, and put the file away for a long time before I can think of revising and really, rewriting. Publishing? I’m not planning on it, not yet. But who knows?

So my job still bores me, and my internship is still frustrating. But those boring, frustrating times, I’d think about what I’d write when I got home. And for thirty days, I felt like I was part of something bigger, something with meaning. I felt like I was doing something grand. I had a purpose, a drive, a schedule, a mission. And by chance, just as I got busy, things in my future started to fall into place. Maybe it’s a cliche and an exaggeration to say NaNoWriMo saved my life. But it certainly made me feel worthwhile. And that is not something to be lightly tossed aside.