2 | becoming the nanowrimo girl
When I went off to college in Fall of 2013, I was excited about majoring in English. I was already writing fairly consistently (most of it terrible and usually unfinished) and I couldn't wait to learn how to write well. At this point, I didn't count anything that I'd written as being a full book. I hoped to leave my time at GWU with at least a finished novel under my belt.
As a first semester freshman at Gardner-Webb University, I couldn't actually chosen my classes. The first semester is chosen for you by an academic advisor. It is a liberal arts school, so there are naturally a lot of required classes in many different areas of study. I was lucky enough to be placed in the gen ed English 101 class right away. This was fantastic news to me, since Craig Hall (home to the English Department) was where I would take most of my major courses.
For ENGL 101, I had Dr. Stuart. She is amazing and I have her to thank for at least seven of my eleven current novels. During her class that semester, we were required to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge where writer's spend the thirty days of November trying to write 50,000 words of a book. There's a website that tracks your progress and helps you map out your journey to success (50K!). For Dr. Stuart's class, we had to write at least 7,000 words. This was far less than than the official challenge, but was appropriate for a non-major course.
I remember going back back to my dorm room after receiving this assignment. I set up my NaNoWrimo account and proceeded to write almost 8,000 words in the first three days of November. This was a surprise to Dr. Stuart (who could see my progress on the site) and to me.
I fell in love with word count goals. NaNoWriMo pushed me to finish my first real draft of Autumn. I completed the challenge and won NaNoWriMo 2013 in seventeen days. This pushed me to complete the first book of the Autumn duology in December 2013 and begin work on the second book in January of 2014.
I was a virtually unknown person in the English Department at the time. I'd taken no upper level writing courses and had done nothing to work towards my major. I was simply a student in one of the required English basic classes. I think Dr. Stuart must have told other professors in the department what I was doing and it became kind of thing. For the first little while, before my professors got to know me personally, I was simply "the NaNoWriMo girl."
I think I'm more proud of that accomplishment now than I was then. I didn't know to be proud of it. At the time, I assumed most writers could breeze through 50,000 words just as quickly. I had a story in my heart and I sat and wrote it. Something about having a goal and deadline really pushed me to get the words on the page. I figured this was how most writers worked.
NaNoWriMo is essentially a factory for first drafts. Your average novel is probably a little over double the challenged word count, so if you succeed, you end with at least half a first draft. I ended that challenge with almost 60K words written on Autumn and the whole second book loosely plotted out. This, in and of itself, began my love affair with word counts and short deadlines. I liked writing under pressure.
That was almost six years ago. Oh my gosh, I'm getting old.
Since then, I've written eleven novels. Seven of which were drafted during NaNoWriMo (November) or Camp NaNoWriMo (April & July). This challenge proved to be an effective way to get me started on a project. I find the beginning of books to be really difficult sometimes. NaNoWriMo doesn't leave time for stressing over perfection or publishability. You have to write and write quickly. This doesn't always lend itself to beautiful writing or perfect drafts, but, in my experience, rough drafts are typically shit shows anyway. At least the words are on the page. That is a massive victory in my eyes.
So, thank you to Dr. Stuart, who made every person in my gen ed English class write a novel for NaNoWriMo. I'm sure other people rolled their eyes or thought it was tedious, but that assignment truly changed my life. It helped me to find an outlet for my ideas. It forced me to put my imagination to work and get the words written. This is still one of my favorite writing tools and, if all goes as planned, I hope to participate in NaNo this November.
That first NaNoWriMo, my story blurb also won a professional cover during the Thirty Covers Thirty Days challenge. At the time, I was calling Autumn by a different name. It was still super cool to have a real graphic designer create a cover for my novel based only on the short blurb. I was very excited about it. CLICK HERE to see the cover and read my little blurb.