It’s been a long, long decade since I first did Nano, and I couldn’t really remember it all that well, but fortunately I had a blog at the time! I didn’t post a huge amount, but at least it was enough to get my memory going. And I have to say, rereading some of those posts made me cringe a bit; boy, was I young and dumb. Sigh. On with the tale of my first nano.
It was actually 2004 when I first heard about NaNoWriMo. I don’t remember which of my friends told me about it, but I do remember thinking, ‘no fucking way’. It was mid October, and I thought, go into a thing full of writing with only days to prepare? Hahahahahaha. Just thinking about it gave me rumblings from my anxiety. I wasn’t even going to try. But I wanted to.
Over the next several months I kept thinking about it, and I finally decided to do it. It seemed so exciting! At the time I wasn’t working, for various reasons (only some of which were anxiety related) and had a partner who was working full time. This meant I could steal time through out the day and night to prep. At least, that’s what I told myself. The reality was it was my dammed time to spend; why the heck I felt like I had to steal it is kind of boggling to 2015 me.
I came up with a plot, did an incredibly detailed outline (snowflake method), created characters with names and backgrounds, the whole shebang. In addition, I haunted the nano forums, reading all about others’ excitement and pathos. It was great! I was not alone; lots of other people with various levels of anxiety and workloads were doing it for the first time as well! I made banners for the forum, played with fonts and images, and, thanks to a long defunct function, stalked all of the best posters to see what they found interesting in the forums (it was a good kind of stalking, as no one was actually being followed, it was just that you could enter a forum member’s name, and see where they’d posted).
By October 31st I was sooo ready to start. I stayed up to midnight, which was probably incredibly unwise as I was also supposed to have RL responsibilities the next day, and started writing right off the bat.
I think it’s fair to say that I went a little overboard with it all. Obsession is a bad thing. Because I’d only ever dabbled at my writing before, I had no concept of how to pace myself. I hit 25k by November 9th, which is a ridiculously big amount if you are also having to do normal stuff. I’m not that fast a typist (especially not then), so imagine instead far too many hours spent bent over the keyboard, ignoring things like family and chores and regular life events. I had had the foresight to let everyone know that I was going to be mentally unavailable for a month, and I was dammed smart to have done that. That didn’t mean that people had believed me, though. Still, most were fairly kind and mostly reconciled to me taking a month to do little but write.
I reached 50,000 words November 25th, which is the winner amount for NaNoWriMo, though I’d barely gotten a quarter of the way through the story. I was so proud of myself.
But still, the novel wasn’t done! So I kept writing.
By mid December, the obsession had mostly worn off, which was good as I think my loved ones would have murdered me otherwise. But I kept writing until I finished the story, which I managed to wrap up on December 31st. The end result was 113,000 words, which is a tad short of the length of your typical novel. It was thin in a lot of places, full of bad writing (probably), but it was all there!
I still can’t get over how deeply it absorbed my energy and interest. I forgot to do things because I was too busy writing. And yet, as cringe inducing as it is for me to recall how entirely I put everything aside to write*, I am also aware of how completely it changed my world view. A writer has to be a writer, and that means that sometimes you put the writing first. I had never, ever, put something I was passionate about first before. That’s probably why I overdid it. Wanting to find balance is wonderful, but it’s hard to know what balance looks like if you’ve never crossed the line. I hadn’t quite learned that lesson at the time, but that was okay too; eventually it would sink in.
NaNoWriMo showed me I could do it. I really could write. I really could take the pictures in my head and turn them into chapters. It was now a question of what to do with this amazing power.
*I did stuff that gave me moderately severe panic attacks. I don’t recommend it. At all.