Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Secrets of a First Time Wrimo

November was a long and bumpy road. As you probably noticed, I have been very quiet of late. My head was down and my mind fully focused on reaching my goal of 50,000 newly written words for National Novel Writing Month. I achieved my goal! The real world was dead to me. Only my imagined world was worthy of my attentions. I ended November with 50,066 words and won my very first NaNoWriMo.

I hope that nobody thinks my pretty little web badge means that this was easy for me. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I wasn't sitting pretty at my desk all month, whistling a tune, and typing away while blue birds fluttered around my head and small woodland creatures applauded around my feet. It was painstaking, terrifying, and absolutely insane!

I will preface this by saying that I bent the rules and wrote a novel that I started over the summer. What can I say? I’m a rebel. I already had one complete chapter of 8,711 words. I did not apply that chapter toward my final word count. I will also say that while I had 15 of the characters already in mind, they were nothing but faces, names, and basic motivations. In some cases, they were only names.

Week One, 7,229 words:  The first week was strange. I thrust myself into unfamiliar territory. I did not write a single word on the first day. I had stage fright. I wasn’t sure what to do other than to type.  On day two, I cranked out over 4,000 words. “This is easy,” I thought. “50,000 words will be no problem at all.” How I lied! The rest of the week I putt-putted like an old jalopy. By the end of the week, I was 4,000 words below par. One unexpected side effect to plunging headfirst into a fictional reality was the dreams. Every night I dreamt such vivid and lively dreams that when I awoke, I felt as though I never slept at all.

Week Two, 7,506 words:  I spent week two staring at a brick wall. My characters would not speak to me. They would not speak to each other. My fictional world was a gray haze and my plot made no sense whatsoever. Every word I typed felt clunky and forced. I was as a child lost in a mammoth grocery store crying out for her mother. I learned that a week two slump is common among Wrimos.  This knowledge did something to boost my ego but that boost was very short lived. By the end of the week, I was 7,000 words below par.

Week Three, 6,889 words:  Week three was a famously raucous pity party with full on streamers, balloons, and pointy cardboard hats. “I’m probably not going to make 50,000 words,” I told friends, family, and coworkers. “But it’s okay,” I said with a brave face, “I have a better sense of my story and more words than I did before.” Inside me was a big ugly ball of disappointment. It stared me in the face and spat out insults. I considered cheating. If I added my previously written chapter to the word count, I would be sitting pretty. I chose not to. I couldn't bring myself to sully the process. I pressed on despite my anxiety.

Something miraculously profound happened inside me on Sunday November 20th. The labor pains stopped and I held in my arms my screaming infant novel. He stared up at me with eyes of wonder. I looked down at him and I knew exactly who he was and what he wanted to say. I embraced him close to my chest and rejoiced. “I am a writer,” I said. It no longer felt like a partial lie. I am a writer. I vowed to reach my goal. If not for myself, then for my story and all the glorious people and places therein. By the end of the week, I was 14,000 words below par. C. L. Kay Living the Dream Gold Ink Pen Blog GraphicWeek 4, 28,442 words:  I cracked my knuckles and got to work. This was it. I had nine days to scrape out as many words as my fingers could type. I literally ate and slept my novel. I shut off my phone and ignored my messages. I woke up hours before work and typed. I toted my notebook and scribbled during the bus-and-two-trains commute to work. I scribbled while scarfing down lunch.  I scribbled some more during my commute home. In the evenings, I typed up what I wrote during the day and typed some more. I typed until my eyelids weighed a ton and my mind was swimming. I allowed myself 5-6 hours a night for sleep and those hours turned out more dreamful and less sleepy.  I tossed and turned. My characters that a few weeks prior wouldn’t talk to me now talked nonstop.  “Shh, I’m trying to sleep,” I said. “But we have business to conduct,” they whined. At one point, I literally forgot how to spell “pour.”

I’m pretty sure I hallucinated that weekend. I saw things and heard things that likely were not there.  If it weren’t for my boys in the red Indian head sweaters, the Chicago Blackhawks, I would be wearing a straight jacket right now. Hockey was just about the only thing rooting me to reality (they have the third best record in the league right now. Go, Hawks, go!). On November 30th, I still had 6,125 words to go. I made a giant pot of strong coffee and went to work. By the evening, I hit the magic number and sighed a massive sigh. I cracked open a bottle of wine, poured a glass, and validated my word count.

I am extremely proud of what I have achieved. My novel is by no means finished and by no means publishable. This shitty first draft still requires at least another 50,000 words. After that, I will begin the long journey of editing. I plan to have a version to share with the world by August 2012. Writing a novel is no longer a distant hope. I have evolved. At long last, I am living my dream!


  1. What an incredible journey...thanks for inspiring and leading the way...I too one day want to respond when someone asks..."what do you do?" with..."I'm a writer!"

    1. Say it today! The more you say it, the truer it becomes.

  2. beautiful story. after reading it i felt like i was living it with you.