November is National Novel Writing Month. You are challenged to write 50000 words in 30 days. That means 1,667 words per day; some days people write more because the ideas are flowing. Some days, there is writer’s bloc. My restrictions were not based on the lack of ideas but other commitments. I had homework due for my SLIS program. I had to work 40hrs a week, serve at church, go to my weekly small group Bible study, and because I am an American, Thanksgiving in the fourth week of November. That does not include emotional stress of dealing with changes at work and at home. It is a discipline to commit an hour to an hour and a half to commit thoughts to “paper” and expect it to be somewhat coherent.
The challenge requires an original manuscript. You cannot take previous uncompleted work and add it to the count. On November 1st 00:01 AM, there must be zero words. That does not mean you can plan ahead – which I did. I already had the names of the main characters, the basic premise, the middle of the story mapped out, and the resolution more or less done.
When I first heard about NaNoWriMo (as it is abbreviated by those in the know), it was 2007. My brother had just finished his second year and I was inspired to do it. After all, I had written several manuscripts over the course of several years but now I wanted to see if I could blitz it. Sadly, it was a false start. Originally, it was set in the same universe as Star Trek: Enterprise and explored a ship from the Earth Cargo Service. The inspiration for writing this was based on Brian Herbert (son of Frank Herbert of Dune fame) who wrote a book on the US Merchant Marine during World War 2. The reason why I failed was because I had just gone to China to study Chinese and my computer was a crappy one and my attention was focused on matters other than writing a novel. Fast forward five years to this year and although I am still in school and working full time and busier than I was in 2007, I had acquired better writing discipline than ever.
Second, this year, I played in my own universe. I didn’t feel like I was playing in someone else’s sandbox. Rather, all of my characters are original characters from my own sandbox universe. That does not mean I was not inspired by others. There were elements of the TV shows Lost, Stargate SG-1 and from the Star Wars universe. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Relics guest starring James Doohan which is about a functional Dyson Sphere. Because a Dyson Sphere is extremely impractical, I decided to use a Dyson Swarm, a variant of the sphere. The plot: a ground of passengers on a space-liner gets through off course and end up trapped on one space station that makes up a Dyson Swarm. The passengers, a motley crew of civilians and some soldiers, have to escape, battling deadly robots. Yeah, it does sound cliched. Yeah, I am sure someone else has done something like this before… but still, this is the challenge: write 50,000 words and tell your story.
I also found it was a great way to explore how people tell stories. Many stories are written from third person perspective where the narrator is almost an impartial observer. He/she will switch scenes between the protagonist, antagonist, and side-kicks but never once revealing all to anyone. Some stories are structured as a first person writing a memoir. Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook switches perspectives. Those writing as first person present perspective are probably the hardest because the author ends up projecting himself or creating the alter ego without spoiling the plot or switching perspectives.
By the way, the rules of NaNoWriMo do not require you to complete your story (i.e. wrap up the plot with an epilogue). You just have to fulfill the word count requirement. In case you think you are done by 30k, the moderators of NaNoWriMo give ideas to help aspiring authors to reach the minimal word count, like go back and explore a character or relationship. Tips like: “Describe your characters with more depth.” “What are some highlights in your characters’ romantic relationship in the past?”
Should I have done something else to pass my leisure hours? Probably, but after posting on Facebook and seeing the comments, I got the sense of accomplishment. This is something I can say I have done.
Will I ever publish it? I don’t know.