It was about this time last year, when I first heard of NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the month in question is November. The idea behind it is simple: Write (or try to write) 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel within the 30 days of November.
You read that right. 30 days, 50k words, 1 book.
It sounds crazy, but what it comes down to is that you only need to write 1667 words per day for 30 days. That’ll get you a manuscript of about half the size of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I was in hospital last year and bored out of my mind. So I asked for pen and paper – and started writing. Then I left it for a while and came back to it for NaNoWriMo. I knew I wanted to finish my story, mainly because I had searched for one and couldn’t find it, so I decided to write it myself. And NaNoWriMo gave me the focus to get it done. Suddenly I had a self-imposed deadline and a daily target to hit. And all of a sudden I had this determination to get it done and get it done properly.
NaNo is a challenge for us “WriMos” (it’s what we NaNo writers call ourselves, when we’re not busy being NaNites/NaNonites or other inhabitants of NaNoLand ). Making the time to write every day, plotting a story, researching, creating characters – none of it is easy. It’s one month and you give it your best, write every day and at the end, if you manage to hit the target, you can say you’ve written the first draft of a book!
I’m very glad that I found out about NaNoWriMo. I never thought I’d actually sit down and write a book. Articles and feature stories are more my métier. A book needs time to be lovingly drafted and written. But through the NaNoWriMo website and the (unofficial) NaNoWriMo Facebook group, I finally met people and built a community that I actually belong to. We’re all creative writers. Some published, some not. But we all write because we love it, because we’ve got stories in us that want out. That need out.
Writing, just like any creative art-form, can be very therapeutic as well. I had a lot to deal with and work through last year and writing really helped. Pour your soul onto those pages. It doesn’t matter whether you write for yourself or for a wider audience, the important part is that you write.
The support is amazing. No matter what your question is, from “I’m researching a thing, anyone here able to give me any pointers?” to “how is ABC done in XYZ country?” and “pen names: yay or nay?” – someone will always be able to help. I’ve learnt a lot this past year just reading the comments. Grammatical questions, layouting, debates on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing and loads of research questions. When writers come together they help each other. And who knows, maybe someone else has the same questions.
The beauty is that the phrase “I’m a writer, it’s research for my novel” covers a multitude of weird and bizarre questions and yet, nobody looks at you funny. You belong. Everybody’s been there, asked weird questions (and probably got worrying looks from family and friends) in the name of research.
My NaNoWriMo project last year was fanfiction. Sherlock fanfiction. Or rather: John Watson fanfiction with Sherlock mentioned on the side. And yes, I know, I HAD to go for the one genre I can’t make profit on.
But the thing is: I wanted to right a wrong. My story is based on the BBC show Sherlock, which modernises the super sleuth and shows Holmes and Watson as young men, born in the 1970s and living in London today. I’ve always felt connected to Dr Watson somehow. He’s always portrayed as a bit of a fool, as the loyal sidekick, but the man was an army doctor and personally, I think you need nerves of steel and a certain kind of military-bred self-restraint in order to live with someone like Sherlock Holmes and not give in to the temptation to strangle/throttle, maim or kill him on a regular basis.
So I wrote the first 70k words of my story “The Bravery of the Soldier“ during NaNoWriMo 2013. By the time I was done writing and editing in April 2014, I had a total of 102,594 words.
You can’t make money off fanfiction due to various copyright laws. But there are websites for fanfiction out there, where you can post your story free of charge and have other fans read it. I posted mine to Archive Of Our Own (AO3) and fanfiction.net (ff.net), because in fanfiction, where characters are already established, fellow fans are the best judges of whether you managed to portray them right.
As of today, across those two sites, “The Bravery of the Soldier” has been viewed a total of 97,889 times. It’s gained 524 comments/reviews, 531 subscribers and 722 likes.
And all of this came from boredom in hospital and the motivation NaNoWriMo gave me to finish the story.
I know I will keep writing. My creativity had been stunted for too long and it took me a while to find my words again,but I am so glad I did.I didn’t realise how much I missed writing just for writing’s sake until I sat down with a blank piece of paper and a vague idea of a plot in my head.
Participation in NaNoWriMo is very simple. You sign up for free at nanowrimo.org and start writing. Whether you write by hand, computer, typewriter or voice recognition is your choice. The website lets you update your word count and once you reach 50,000 words, you can submit your manuscript. That doesn’t mean much, it just goes through their verification word counter, to get the official count. You can validate your story until 23.59 on 30th November. Winners can get all sorts of goodies, like discounts for printing or software but the real prize is the knowledge that you wrote a book. That is one achievement nobody can take away from you!