Writing a Novel in 30 Days

I did it. I won NaNoWriMo again! I finished writing my 50k word novel in not 30 days, but 27! For the third year in a row, I wrote a novel in less than 30 days.

In 2012, my third year in graduate school, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time. I had heard of it since high school and always wanted to participate, but never had the courage to try. My graduate advisor pushed me over the edge. During a conversation in his office, I agreed to participate. I left his office feeling like I usually did after inspirational conversations with him- thinking Shit! When am I ever going to have time for this?

But I had signed up, so I didn’t want to give up before I even started. I got more and more excited as November grew closer. I imagined my amazing success as a famous novelist. Day 1 came around and I put on my headphones, sat down at my computer, and began to write. One hour and about 700 words later, I gave up for the day. I barely managed to get out those 700 words and that was less than half of my daily expected count. What’s more, they were awful. Truly terrible.

I was ready to give up. The biggest thing that stopped me from giving in right there was an inspirational quote from another Wrimo. She told me, “It isn’t the things you do in life that you regret, but the things you don’t do.”

That really resonated with me. All my life I wanted to write a novel. I couldn’t give up on Day 1, less than 700 words into my novel. And I didn’t.

I used that motivation to keep me going for all 50,000 words. I finished my novel in 30 days. It was crap, but I never felt prouder. I was elated. I was on top of the world. I came so close to quitting on day one, that I never thought I would get anywhere close to finishing a novel.

But the story doesn’t end there. I wasn’t done after one crappy novel. I realized that my goal wasn’t to write a novel, but to write a good novel. One that was good enough to get published.

So I kept working. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013, though I didn’t finish. I won again in 2015, 2016, and now in 2017.

Do I have good novels? Not yet. But they’re better.

Now I’m learning that you don’t usually get it right on the first try. You don’t just write a novel, you re-write it. And re-write, and re-write, and re-write.

I’m learning how to do that.

But most importantly, I’m not giving up on my dream. Each year, my novels get a little better. Each year I learn more about writing (and re-writing). Each year, I find that I actually love the hours I slave away at the computer trying to make my word count during one of the busiest months of the semester.

I write because I love it. And I’ll keep working toward my goal.

On Friendship and Gratitude

I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up. It wasn’t really until junior year of high school that I found a group of people I really connected with. I lamented it at the time- why did it take me so long! I only had a year and a half at that point before I was done with high school and would leave all of my friends behind. I was jealous of the people who had the same best friend since preschool. They had so many memories together!

What I didn’t know, was that twelve years later, we would still be friends.

I just left a party with my high school friends. Four of them still live in the area and we hang out regularly to play board games, watch movies, or play Pathfinder. But every year around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, all ten or so of us (whoever can make it that year) get together.

It’s amazing that we have still kept in touch for this long. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have such good friends. I never imagined that I would still be friends with my high school friends today, but I’m so glad that I am.

There is no better feeling than spending time with someone who knows you incredibly well. We play social deduction board games (we used to play Mafia, this year we upgraded to Secret Hitler) and know each other so well, that it’s almost easy to guess everyone’s role each game.

I’ve been feeling frustrated lately that so many of my friends are getting engaged and it didn’t work out with the person I was dating. I kept looking and what I didn’t have.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve started to look at what I do have. I have some amazing friends who, after twelve or more years, still care about each other and spend time together. And I am so grateful for them.

What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You

Right now, I’m procrastinating. Writing my novel this past week has been tough. I feel like I lost my momentum. I lost my lead as well. I had gotten ahead, but then two incredibly busy weekends changed that.

After I hit 25k, I really felt like this would be the easy part. In my head, it almost felt like I was done already. Instead, it got even harder. I’ve thought of some cool ideas, but it’s been hard to implement them. I sit down to my computer feeling tired and excited for being done but not for the process of getting there.

I was immensely frustrated. I toyed with the idea of quitting. Quitting! After being more than 50% done! I was annoyed at myself for even considering it.

Still, I remembered previous years when I had finished early, sometimes even before Thanksgiving so I could better enjoy the holidays with loved ones. I dreamed about that this year too, but I am not even close (34,500 words for anyone keeping track at home).

Sometimes I think that I get too excited about the destination and forget about the journey. Sometimes when the going gets tough, I find it hard to remember why I wanted to start in the first place. I think about being a published author or getting my reward for completing my novel. I don’t think about the act of writing itself. I don’t look forward to writing like I used to.

But it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to want to give up. You can’t help the way you feel, but it is entirely up to you what you do about it.

Writing, like most things in life, isn’t easy. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. When I write a novel or do anything else, I get frustrated sometimes. I want to quit sometimes. Some days I’m inspired, but others I have to slog through.

Just because you hit a rough patch, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you should quit. When thinking about my struggles with writing lately, I remembered something that my boxing coach always tells us during our workouts:

“What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

During the workout, I think: Of course! If we don’t work our muscles hard, they won’t develop. We won’t get better.

This doesn’t apply only to boxing, however. It applies to writing too. Or anything else that you want to do with your life. It’s not always easy. But take comfort in the fact that if it’s difficult, it will change you- likely for the better.

Tired but Happy

This month so far has been the craziest and busiest I have had in a long time by far. I’ve also felt happier and more myself than ever before.

I am so glad that I decided to go forward with NaNoWriMo. I have 23,410 words written so far. I should get to the halfway point by the end of the day today! It’s amazing that I’ve come so far already when I didn’t think I would have time to do any of it.

And I don’t hate it. I think the novel is turning out to be better than the ones I’ve written in previous years. It’s amazing that with the progress I’ve made on writing in the years since I’ve started doing NaNoWriMo, I’m actually able to see myself getting better. I’ve always been frustrated with not doing enough, but I don’t think I’ve valued enough of what I have done. Maybe this will be the year I finally write a good novel for NaNoWriMo!

It’ll be hard this week to work on my novel, because Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson came out today and what I want to be doing is dropping everything to read all day. My best friend is also coming to visit this weekend and, of course, I’ll want to prioritize spending time with her.

But somehow, I’ll manage. I have so far.

This month, in addition to my novel, I’ve continued boxing every other day and eating healthy, I’ve spent time with my little sister, continued running my Pathfinder game, joined a D&D game, started dating someone, hung out with friends and family, and kept up with things at work, just to name a few.

These experiences have reiterated my self-knowledge that the busier I am, the happier I seem to be. I love doing things, especially things I love.

They’ve also encouraged me to go for my goals, like writing a novel, even when I don’t think I have time or think it will be impossible to achieve them. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I feel energized and enthusiastic. I’m excited about life. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about myself.

Too often, I’ve stopped doing one thing I love in pursuit of another, because I was worried I wouldn’t have time or wouldn’t be able to put enough time or energy into both. This month has really proved to me that I shouldn’t limit myself (and neither should you!) Certainly, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stopping and taking care of yourself is most important. But give your dreams a shot. Even if they’re hard. Even if you’re already doing a lot. Because they’re worth it. You’re worth it!

Why I’m Writing A Novel This Month

For those of you who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo (NaNoWriMo website) The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. This works out to be 1667 words (or about 8 double-spaced pages) per day. Sounds crazy, right? It is, but it’s also pretty awesome.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I want others to read my fantasy books and be immersed in my world, just like I so often am in others’. I’ve come up with story ideas in my head since grade school, occasionally writing them down in short story or idea form. I first heard of NaNoWriMo in high school, but I didn’t start participating until my 3rd year in graduate school. I always found an excuse- I was too busy, I could never do something like that, now just wasn’t the right time.

Finally, in 2012, my graduate advisor encouraged me to do NaNoWriMo with him. I had even less time than ever before, but what I did have was the motivation and the social support. I convinced another grad student friend to do it with me, and together we embarked on this crazy journey. Day 1: less than 1000 words in and I already wanted to quit. The writing was awful- nothing like I imagined- and I already had run out of ideas. I probably would have quit, but I kept thinking how do I tell my graduate advisor that I quit on Day 1?

So I kept going. And going. And 50,000 words and 29 days later I had a novel. It was a crappy novel, but it was a novel. I have never felt prouder of anything in my entire life. What I had dreamed of for so long had finally come to pass.

I tried in 2013, but didn’t finish (I was also applying for jobs, teaching 4 classes, and writing my dissertation at the time). I was glad I tried, but also glad that I prioritized my career.

I skipped 2014- my first year in my brand new job.

I participated again in 2015 and 2016 and “won” both years with two more crappy 50,000 word novels. Finishing didn’t feel as good in these years, though there were some extenuating circumstances (mostly to do with my ex). Nevertheless, I was still proud that I participated and completed my novels.

Now it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo 2017. I promised myself back in September that I was going to do it again this year.

But.

Since September, I’ve had about a million things going on. I’m teaching more classes this year than I have before, I have more advisees, I’m prepping new courses, I’m boxing every other day, I’m running a Pathfinder campaign, I’m working on my 2nd year review for work, I’m playing Magic, I have a little sister. And those are just the NEW things I’m doing. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed every day after I come home from work, barely able to heat up some food and collapse on the couch for a few hours before bed.

I’ve been dreading November. I keep wanting to call it all off. There’s no way I will have time to do everything AND write a novel. I keep trying to convince myself to quit. I almost have so many times.

But I refuse to let myself be ruled by fear.

Why do I want to quit? It’s the fear of failure. Fear that despite winning the last two years in a row, I won’t win this year. Fear that I’m not good enough. That I’m never going to be a writer. That I’ll never write a good novel.

This fear hasn’t stopped me just in November, but for the past year, I’ve hardly written anything because I’ve been afraid of failing.

No more.

Trying and failing is far better than sitting back and watching your dreams float away because you were too afraid to reach out for them. If I don’t finish this year, because of everything else in my life, I will at least be content that I tried. That I didn’t quit before I even started.

Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it. Like my boxing coach says, What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You.