Back in 2014, I won National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is “won” by hitting 50,000 words written in a new novel in the month of November. It means you’ve written at least an average of 1,667 words a day for 30 days. And if you’ve never tried it, it is not easy.
Prior to 2014, I didn’t think I could write that fast or write under pressure. But the novel I started drafting back then became what will be my second published novel (in November 2019).
After that success, I tried to attempt NaNoWriMo again, but I was never quite ready at that moment to start something new. But this year, after sending a revision of my current WIP to my agent for her comments, and after thinking and planning and gathering notes on what I want to write next, I think I’m finally ready to tackle it again.
Or I’d better be, because I already signed up to compete.
For me, this may mean getting up early each morning to write before the day gets going. It may mean writing in the evenings instead of reading or watching a show. It may mean spending most of a Saturday at the keyboard. And it may mean all of those things at once!
Why try to write 50,000 words in one month? For me, it’s about momentum. Momentum that will carry me through a crappy first draft that I can then spend a lot more time revising and honing, which is my favorite part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise what hasn’t yet been written. Plus, I haven’t drafted something totally new in at least two years as I have been focused on revising earlier works and letting my creative well re-fill. It’s time to get moving on a new story with a new cast of characters.
One of the things you do when you officially sign up for NaNoWriMo (at nanowrimo.org) is choose a working title, write a short synopsis, and upload a provisional cover in order to make it all feel more concrete. Here’s mine:
Mel and Ollie Go for a Walk
Sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were college students on a remote wilderness hiking trip when their parents died in a terrible car crash. They emerged from the isolation of the woods that day only to discover that, except for each other, they were utterly alone in the world.
Ten years later, Melanie insists they mark the occasion by hiking the same trail. Olivia doesn’t see the point. They’ve gone their separate ways in life and now have little in common besides their grief–and their uncanny ability to get on one another’s nerves.
Olivia, a young, hungry lawyer, has retreated into a strictly materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie, a self-proclaimed life coach and YouTube guru, affirms all spiritual belief systems, just to cover her bases. Neither of them is prepared for what the wilderness is about to throw at them.
As things go from bad to worse on the trail, Mel and Ollie will have to learn to lean on each other and find the right path in order to get back to civilization. Along the way, they will discover just how deep the bond between sisters goes.
I’ve been wanting to write a sister story for a while. And I’ve been wanting to write a hiking story for a while. (No big surprise, considering the fact that I hike with my sister regularly.) The kind of silly working title popped into my head one day and wouldn’t be dislodged, though once the book is written I am sure a better one will emerge. And obviously the very simple cover is just for my benefit (it doesn’t even have my name on it because there’s no good place to put it). But sometimes you have to visualize the finished product in order to make it more real, to make it something you’re willing to put in the work on.
The fun part about this story as I envision it? Taking all of those concerns one has when embarking on a backcountry hiking trip where there is no cell service–the possibility of bear attacks, sudden injury, getting lost, getting caught in the elements, running out of food or water, wildfire, being tracked by a person with ill intent–and throwing some of them at my characters to see how they react and what they learn about life and themselves along the way.
Embarking on NaNoWriMo is a little like taking a hiking trip. You plan as best you can, but you also have to make decisions in the moment. Because you never know what’s around the next bend…