First of all: why is this in English? Well, NaNoWriMo started in the US and though it now is an annual international event, English is still the main language and maybe this might be of some interest to other NaNoWriMo writers around the globe.
Secondly: this article’s title is a bit misleading, I confess. No, this isn’t the story I wrote, this is my story of how I tried to write my first novel from beginning to end in just one month. The story of how I failed to finish in time and why I still see it as a win for me.
Let’s start at the beginning. It all started when I heard about the MOOC “The Future of Storytelling”. It was already over but luckily I had the chance to still take the course, watch the videos and do the homework assignments. Since the MOOC was about storytelling, a project called NaNoWriMo, which took place at the time of the original course, was mentioned a few times. I never heard of it before but instantly liked the idea. But when I started the MOOC in January 2014, NaNoWriMo was already over. (Because it is in November. Duh.)
I bookmarked the page, created an account and forgot all about it. Since I still wanted to write and never managed to finish a complete novel (believe me, I started a few dozen times over the course of my life) I created my own shortstory project, where writers produce a shortstory every month with a topic that I specify. I motivated others to write regularly and most importantly motivated myself to write at least a few times each month. The hardest part about writing is thinking about your story all the time, taking it with you wherever you go, forming it in your mind. The actual act of writing is easy, once the story exists. With this insight in mind I should’ve thought a little bit more about what I wanted to write during the NaNoWriMo. October came to an end and I had no clue at all. At November 1st I panicked, searched in my mind for ideas I had in the past, found a suitable one and looked it up in my ideas-notebook. There was a plot, some ideas for an ending and even two character descriptions. For me that was pretty elaborate, most of what I call “story ideas” are only 2 or 3 sentences in my notebook. I felt confident and started writing at once but it didn’t come as easy as I thought it would. I had doubts. I didn’t really know what I wanted to say with my story, wasn’t sure about the ending. When I wrote, I made all the mistakes the NaNoWriMo people warned us about. Overthinking instead of just writing, getting the words together. That was my main mistake. The hardest part about your first draft is allowing it to be imperfect. “Your first draft always sucks, it has to”. The best writer in the world can’t produce a first draft that doesn’t suck. Your story evolves while you write. You go back, jump around, you change the beginning when you reach the end and after that, change the ending again. Editing is one of the most important parts when it comes to writing. If you try to write a perfect draft from the beginning, you’ll get frustrated, you get stuck. And most importantly, you’ll never write the necessary 1600 words each day. And then there was the time issue.
I only could write in the evenings and even then I almost never wrote more than 500 words. The NaNoWriMo guys said that it’s going to be hard. That you won’t leave your home much, won’t have much social interactions in this month and so on. But I have a job and I didn’t want to cancel everything else. There where evenings when I went swimming after work or watched a movie… and I simply had no time to write. NaNoWriMo is there to teach us that we can and we should write every single day. I couldn’t. And those days where you don’t write a single word really drag you down. “Oh, I haven’t written a single word yesterday, so now I have to write even more each day, how will I ever manage to do that? It’s hopeless.” The NaNoWriMo coaches helped. They motivated, gave tipps, sent motivating mails. Reminded the writers that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That it didn’t matter how far we were. “Just write! Write, write, write. Get those words onto the paper. If you’re stuck, interview your characters so you get to know them better, skip a chapter, doesn’t matter as long as you just write!”
I look at the counter in my WordPress below. Why is it so much easier to write nearly 1000 words in half an hour if it’s a blogpost about something that moves me when I couldn’t write 500 words for my NaNoWriMo story on the same day? Maybe I’m not convinced by my story. I most definitely am not. But just a few days ago I read an article about NaNoWriMo and writing in general. It said: You have to finish. Always. No matter what. Don’t love your story halfway through? Doesn’t matter. Finish it!
I have written a lot in my life but I’ve never finished anything longer than 20.000 words. I just need to know that I can, no matter how long I take and no matter how bad the result is. I probably won’t show it to anyone, this is just for myself. It’s like running your first marathon. The time doesn’t matter, if you reach the finish line, you’re already a winner. And it can only get better. So I’ll finish my NaNoWriMo story. I “lost” this year’s NaNoWriMo but it was my first one and I learned so much that I’ll refuse to consider this losing. And I will finish my story. And next year, I’ll stand at the starting line again. And this time, I’ll be better prepared and finish in time.