A Decade of NaNoWriMo


Over a decade ago, in 2003, a friend begged me to sign up for National Novel Writing Month and try to write 50,000 words with her in November. I didn’t make the goal, but as an aspiring teenage writer, I was overwhelmed and delighted to discover a whole online community of people like me. We didn’t all aim to be professional authors. Some of us didn’t even want to be published. But we all had ideas, we all did our best to put them down on paper, and we supported each other.

NaNoWriMo has sustained plenty of criticism over the years. People fear that being called a “novelist” will go to your head. You’ll try to send off your unfinished manuscript to harried agents and publishers. You’ll think it’s okay to veer off into a fight between pirates and ninjas in the middle of your narrative. And real writers don’t need an event to motivate them to write, anyway.

Maybe some of these fears are valid. All I know is that I stand 100% behind anything that seeks to enable anyone, anywhere to be creative. NaNoWriMo gave me the support and encouragement I couldn’t find anywhere else in my life. If that makes me a fake writer, then so be it.

Last weekend, I got an email inviting me to become one of the Municipal Liaisons for my area. This November, I’ll be hosting parties, leading write-ins, and reaching out to fellow local writers in an attempt to get them across the finish line. I finally have the opportunity to give back to the event that has given so much to me.

I only wrote 3,000 words during my first NaNo, but I showed them to my creative writing class. They liked it enough that I felt motivated to finish a few short stories, none of which were ever published, but all of which received many encouraging personal rejections.

NaNo has kept me going through hard times. My first win in 2007 was an oasis of peace, happiness, and cooperation in the midst of a busy, scary year. Local meetups, like the ones I’ll be conducting, have provided me with healthy competition, inside jokes, face-to-face support, and friends.

The first Camp NaNoWriMo session in 2011 gave me something to hold onto while I drifted across the country, unsure where I’d settle down. I completed a cathartic memoir, and the peace it brought me allowed me to sit down that November and finally complete a novel, start-to-finish, that I fully intend to submit for publication one day.

This year, I’ve worked on outlining and revising the series I began in 2011, written down solid beginnings to two new standalone novels, started and completed a 60,000 word novella, and just recently, gotten into the habit of writing regular blog posts. I’m still not published, but now I have a plan for getting there.

I may have had it in me to write this way all along, but I needed the NaNoWriMo community to show me how to have faith in myself. There’s nothing I want more out of life than to inspire just one other writer in the same way.

Carpe diem: seize the carp (or, My Works In Progress)


I’m having trouble with ideas lately.

I try my usual tactic — taking a walk — to brainstorm up the next scene in my current project. I arrive home an hour later with four new ideas. Novels spawn short stories spawn alternate universes spawn fanfic. I try to sleep on it and wake up certain that my dream of biker gangs who ride motorized wheelchairs and make vrooming noises (some with their mouths, some with communication devices) is the next big thing in the YA genre.

This is nothing new. My mind brimmed with ideas when I was a kid, too. Back then, I’d throw myself into them headfirst, underestimating the amount of work they’d require. I’m sure my under-10-only radio show and sidewalk carnival would have enjoyed greater success if my friends and family could manage to approach my level of passion.

I had this idea that I could do anything, anytime I wanted, which later in life manifested as the tendency to put off even school projects I know I would have enjoyed. I could pick it up later. I could whip it out in record time. I could wait until my passion turned in that direction, but of course, it never did. Or it did, but it was short-lived, and after ten minutes or a sleepless stretch of ten hours, I bounced off toward something shiny and new.

It’s good to have passion. I think most writers, professional or amateur, enjoy the feeling of being completely wrapped up in a project they love and unwilling to put it down. The part I have trouble handling is picking one and sticking to it. Polyamory never worked for me in romantic relationships (more accurately, it crashed and burned), and it’s not going to work for me in writing fiction.

With Camp NaNoWriMo around the corner and the promise of local meetups in sight, it’s time to admit that I don’t get plot bunnies. I get plot carp. They’re shiny and beautiful enough to distract my from what I’m doing. I decide I need to chase them and pin them down right now, but they’re so slippery that it’s not long before they wriggle from my grasp, leaving me to reach for a different one. So, in the interest of learning to leave the carp alone, here’s a list of my current works in progress. With luck, I’ll learn to trust that they’ll still be here when I’m done with the one I choose to focus on first.

Last edited 1/11/2015

Main Project – epic fantasy/steampunk series

  • Prewriting/backstory, ~40k so far
  • Sister Cities (complete at 120k, revising)
  • Disinheritance (slated for rewrite early 2015)
  • Heartland (50% drafted at ~80k)
  • Bloodline (to be drafted NaNo 2015)
  • Untitled Book 5

Other Novels

  • Floodplain (horror/magical realism with lesbians, 35k/85k)
  • Radioactive (working title; coming-of-age plus zombies, 16k/85k)
  • Cat’s Meow (working title; Egyptian gods in Chicago during Prohibition, 18k/85k)
  • Our Red Room (working title; something like historical erotica, outlining)
  • Untitled horror (from the ghost’s pov; thoroughly outlined)
  • Lots of others, but considering those abandoned unless they assert themselves.

Short & Personal Work

  • Nightshade (m/m erotica with vampire fire sprites, complete at 60k)
  • The Purse (short horror, 1k/~5k)
  • They Kill (very short horror, outlined)
  • Mermaid (scene from main work, 2k/3k)
  • Session Rouge (this plus this)
  • Look through old documents, add to list, cry