This November, I did the NaNoWriMo challenge for the first time. It was hands down one of the most wild experiences of my life. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, occurs in November every year, and writers from all around the world take the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month.
Of course, because I always shoot for the stars, I set myself a higher goal. I wanted to write every day and draft my entire novel with a word count between 70,000 and 80,000 words. I couldn’t feel more proud to share that I reached my goal. After writing for thirty days straight, I finished my draft at 73,311 words.
My NaNoWriMo Story
First, I’d love to share a little about the story I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll spill a little tea. I write young adult fiction, so this is another YA story. My main genres are mystery and thriller, but I’ve fallen in love with fantasy recently. Still, I didn’t want to lose my suspense roots, so I found a way to blend the two.
Fairytale retellings are extremely popular, and I thought it’d be fun to write one of my own. Rather than choosing only one, I selected two of my favorite fairytales from when I was younger and weaved them together into a very original story with a modern flare. Drawing elements from two fairytales gave me the fun opportunity to explore ways of fitting them together into a brand new story. I thought outside the box and took fresh spins on characters and plots. In the end, I developed a story that has roots in the fairytales but shines on its own.
Also, I love Greek mythology. Threading Greek mythology into the story was one of my favorite parts because I stumbled upon myths that seamlessly fit with my story ideas. There were so many moments where the stars aligned, and I couldn’t believe how naturally the mythology enhanced my story. Still, since Greek mythology is quite popular, I made it a point to dig deep and include Gods, Goddesses, and various myths that haven’t been overdone. Rather than centering around the Olympians, I turned my attention to the Titans and other figures that interested me. Also, I reimagined the mythological characters, magic, and representations to let them take the spotlight in original ways. Mythology is up for interpretation, so I loved taking my own spin on this aspect of my story.
Though the story has magic and mythology, it has a thriller structure. The setting is very much a character of its own, creating atmosphere and suspense. The time limit set by a prophecy ups the stakes. There are darker scenes and all the heart-pounding vibes of a thriller. Twists and turns lead to dead ends, misinterpretations, and shocking reveals. Yet, the mythological backdrop and ties to fairytales give the story a shimmer of magic that weaves through the thrilling plot.
I truly hope this story makes it onto shelves one day, but for now, that’s a glimpse into what I worked on during NaNoWriMo.
Since I loved participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I wanted to share my journey. I faced obstacles and wrote my way through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Yet, I made it to the finish line and have a draft of a novel that I love so much. So, let me draw back the curtain and reveal how I went from zero words to 73,311 in a month.
Plotting and Researching in Advance
I can honestly say there’s no way I would’ve been able to write the full draft if I hadn’t plotted and researched until I basically drove myself up the wall. Once I decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge, I spent literally all of September and October preparing to write the book. I actually really enjoy doing research, from reading books and articles to watching YouTube videos and beyond. I invented my characters, sketched scenes, ironed out kinks, and filled holes all the way until Halloween, the day before NaNoWriMo started. I’ve always been a plotter to some extent, but I never prepared for a writing project to this degree before. Still, I know my writing style, and I was certain that if I didn’t prepare this much, I wouldn’t have succeeded during NaNoWriMo.
I wrote a blog post all about the magic of researching for a new novel, and you can read that here to dive deeper into my preparation process for NaNoWriMo. I also touch on how exploring a new story idea sparked my love for writing again while querying. I promise it’s a great read.
If I do NaNoWriMo again, I’m definitely going to prepare the way I did this time. Having a solid chapter-by-chapter outline and pages of research on all aspects of the story, from the real world to Greek Mythology and beyond, allowed me to feel secure while I wrote. I always knew what came next. When I needed to include specific details relating to the setting, characters, mythology, and more, I had my document to consult. Knowing the story allowed me to plan my schedule. I knew which chapters would be more involved and which would be a breeze to write. All of this was possible because of the amount of time I spent preparing. I truly admire all the pantsers out there who dive in headfirst without plotting ahead of time because I could never do it that way.
Since I prepared all the way to the day before NaNoWriMo started, I had momentum already. It was easy for me to start writing on November 1 because exploring my novel for two months made me excited and eager. I couldn’t wait to watch my story unfold on the page.
Sharing My Journey With My Best Friend
Every writer needs a writer best friend, and mine is the best of the best. My friend, Jess, and I have spent countless hours since undergrad talking about books and sharing ideas for our own projects. Our conversations snowballed once we became critique partners during our MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. From that semester on, we’ve sent tons of audio messages and stayed up for hours on the phone bouncing around ideas for our books. So, it’s no surprise that Jess was in my corner during my entire NaNoWriMo journey.
I believe that with anything creative, it’s essential to be open to feedback and listen to others’ opinions. From the earliest stages of my planning for this story, I shared my ideas with Jess and listened to her outstanding suggestions. As my outline developed, she pointed out holes and raised questions I needed to consider. She helped me iron out kinks and gave me golden ideas. Most of all, she cheered me on during NaNoWriMo. On the days doubts tried to bring me down, she encouraged me to keep writing. She celebrated with me when I hit milestones. When I needed validation on new ideas or wrote myself into corners, Jess never failed to be there. I honestly couldn’t have written this book without her endless support and encouragement the entire time. I’m lucky to have a best friend who shares my love for writing because Jess made NaNoWriMo extra fun.
If this book ever gets published, Jess is definitely going to be on my acknowledgements page. I’m blessed for our friendship, and I can’t wait for her to read my draft. We’re both working on projects at the moment, so I’m looking forward to more conversations about our stories. They always make my day.
The Beauty of Flexibility
Being flexible during NaNoWriMo was key to my success. Flexibility took many forms during the month, and I made sure to embrace them all. Though NaNoWriMo became stressful at times, I had a blast and didn’t put too much pressure on myself each day. I had a solid plan and goals, but giving myself the freedom to be imaginative with my story and take breaks for my sanity made my NaNoWriMo experience quite enjoyable.
First, I needed to be flexible with my writing schedule. Since my book has 29 chapters and an epilogue, I had to write a chapter a day on average, since November has 30 days. Still, I recognized that not every day would be the same. This month was busy for me, since I released my EP, It Is What It Is, and my original Christmas single, “Winter Cold.” I had many interviews and had to dedicate time to sending emails and doing music promotion. My days were packed with many other commitments too, and of course, I needed to set time aside for myself. So, it was important for me to adjust my writing schedule accordingly. Part of my goal was to write every day, which I’m proud to say that I did. Still, some days, I wrote two chapters because the inspiration flowed. Other days, I felt exhausted and only had the energy to make small edits and develop chapters further. And yes, there were days I forced myself to stay up late to write because I feared falling behind. It’s a Type A personality thing. No matter what, I realized that I made progress every day, whether I wrote thousands of words or only a few hundred. All of those words added up and got me to the finish line.
Also, I remained flexible with my story. Even though I did a ton of plotting and had a solid outline, I left room for my imagination to shine. Most importantly, I gave my story the chance to unfold on its own. This may sound odd, but once my characters came to life in my mind, they drove the story. I tweaked scenes based on what served the book the best. I had many realizations while writing and went down roads I never imagined while preparing. I always had my outline as a safety net, but nothing was set in stone. I’m very proud of my draft, and allowing myself to remain flexible brought my story to life in a way that reaches far beyond my wildest dreams.
While drafting my book, I did something that I never thought I would. I wrote out of order at one point. When I reached chapter 20, something about the chapter stumped me. I knew there needed to be more to it, but at the moment, I didn’t know what to include. Rather than wasting time staring at the screen, I skipped chapter 20 and wrote 21. Did this feel weird? Yeah, kind of, but it was an interesting experience. Since I had my outline, I knew what chapter 21 was, so I found it easy to hop over 20. Still, with my personality type, knowing that I skipped chapter 20 drove me a little nuts. Luckily, once I wrote 21, I sorted out 20 and went back to write it before continuing to 22. Writing out of order during NaNoWriMo forced me to be flexible with my writing process. Though I never saw myself doing this, it ended up being a great choice that helped me keep my momentum while I determined what chapter 20 was missing. There are so many writing tricks out there, so I’m glad I got the chance to try one of the popular ones out during NaNoWriMo.
Overall, being flexible with the whole process was key. I didn’t set strict rules for myself. I felt free but also secure. Flexibility proved to be essential in many ways and played a role in my NaNoWriMo success.
Watching My Word Count
A novel’s word count is so beyond important. This became clear to me once I started querying and attending writing conferences. I tend to overwrite, which leads to having to cut thousands of words out of a manuscript. That takes a lot of time, and believe me, it’s not fun. So, I decided to track my words while I drafted. This turned out to be a fantastic decision.
Since my novel is a young adult fairytale retelling, I wanted to shoot for a word count between 70,000 and 80,000 words. Though it has fantasy elements and could potentially have a higher word count, I’ve become extremely aware of the publishing industry today. As a debut author, I want to give my manuscript its best shot, and especially since it’s for the young adult audience, I feel the range I set for myself aligns with what agents and editors would accept. This means that before I wrote a single word of the book, I figured out the average word count per chapter to hit both extremes on my range. While I wrote, I made sure my cumulative word count stayed in the middle of those extremes. Some chapters are shorter and others are longer, but since I knew my story well, I anticipated which chapters would drop below or land above my average word count. Having this knowledge allowed me to stay on track and make word count adjustments accordingly. I can’t express how happy I felt when I wrote my epilogue and determined my final word count to be 73,311 words. That’s almost right in the middle of my range.
Being aware of the word count while writing made me realize why this aspect of novels matter so much. I noticed when I had to cut unnecessary details or add more to a scene. I paid attention to pacing more than I ever have before. Word count isn’t just a number. It implies so much about a novel. Noting each chapter’s word count and where major scenes fell offered so much valuable knowledge. Since tracking my words worked so well for me, this is something I’m definitely going to do when I write my next novel.
Writing to the Finish Line
There are no words to express how I felt when I wrote The End. After writing every day and investing so much time and energy into this story, those two little words gave me validation that every moment of the journey led me here. I have a completed draft of a novel that is close to my heart, and I’m so proud of myself for reaching my NaNoWriMo goals.
Wrapping up my NaNoWriMo project at 73,311 words on November 30 meant cake. Yep, I ate cake to celebrate. I deserved it.
I know that what I accomplished this month is a massive achievement. This journey taught me so much, and I proved to myself and the world that I’m capable of writing a whole novel draft in a month. My first NaNoWriMo experience couldn’t have gone more perfectly.
I must admit that I felt a little sad when I finished the draft. After writing every day for a month, I grew to love the sprints. I looked forward to receiving my badges on the NaNoWriMo website when I reached certain milestones. I couldn’t wait to hop on the site and update my word count every day. I’m going to miss all that. Still, this story is far from done. I plan on relaxing in December. I want to read through the whole book, but I’m not starting any revisions until the new year. I think it’s important to set projects aside for a while then return to them with fresh eyes. My story means a lot to me, so I’m going to dedicate even more time making it the best it can be.
So, will I do NaNoWriMo next year? Maybe, we’ll have to see. For now, I’m going to celebrate and have another piece of cake!
If you’d like to read more about my author journey, click here for all my bookish blogs.