April’s Guest Editorial is someone I think is on the edge of being published. I’ve never actually met Anna (though not for trying), but I will tell you she’s an inspiring, warm and positive writer. Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month which I hadn’t done in over six years. When I worried about being able to complete the word counts, Anna was there to encourage and advise. I soon discovered she was an “old pro” at the monthly adventure and related to all my fears and woes. Her continuous support was a motivating factor in my successful completion of the program and made me want to know how she came to be an avid NaNoWriMo writer/fan. She’s also in the same city/area as me, and though we have yet to meet, I know we will soon. Meanwhile, I asked her what inspired her about NaNoWriMo and if she would share her journey with you. Please welcome Anna Mittower, short story writer, lover of all things Japanese, webmaster of Writer’s Nook.
Please add your comments after the post and feel free to ask questions! Anna will respond to everyone who posts and will remain live for the next two weeks.
How National Novel Writing Month Helped Define my Muse
If you ask me where my journey as a writer began I can point you to all the silly, little, short stories I wrote as a kid. Some make sense to my now adult brain, but many are nonsensical romps of a child’s imagination. But my current not-quite-specialty (a fixation, rather) with novels started in middle school. Mother gave me several options for English in 7th grade, being a homeschooler, and I went all starry-eyed over one that taught writing through the process of creating a “novel”.
The attempt was an unmitigated disaster. I only wrote three or four chapters and didn’t even begin the editing phase. But I learned two things.
1) I hated detailed outlining and planning with a passion.
2) I loved writing novels and experimenting in larger and longer storylines than short stories could contain.
My fate was sealed, so to speak. For years I continued to work on that ever morphing, epic fantasy, first novel. In fact, it’s still in my “to write” folder though if you didn’t know it was the same novel it would be unrecognizable.
In my teenage years I discovered that I could write more than just bad, copycat fantasy. Drawing upon the Trekkie influence of my early years, I began crafting science fiction novels. Finally I was able to write something longer than four chapters and I learned how to write by the seat of my pants (and how much better that worked for me).
I never did quite finish that novel either, and it’s still waiting for the end of its mystery. However, it lasted me until college. Then I discovered something which changed the way I wrote. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, of course.
I’m one of those crazy people who decided that it would be a good idea to attempt NaNoWriMo during the first semester of college. I had a cliché, fantasy novella begging to be written and I let it escape onto the page just so I could forget it. I didn’t even make it to 20k that year (we’re asked to complete a minimum 50k words in 30 days). Still, once I finished it for a class the following semester, I had my first complete novel draft!
However, the floodgates of novel ideas were permanently jammed open.
Re-energized, I returned to sci-fi (I abandoned fantasy) and decided to revisit the main character from my first, unfinished sci-fi novel. The problem was I had no idea what sort of plot best suited my character. Then, I married that character with a persistent daydream. Voila, my second NaNoWriMo novel was born.
This resulted in a highly successful marriage. Though the tale was unfinished, it was my first time writing something at least 50k words. It taught me I could buckle down and produce and just how fast I could write (especially since the last 10.5k was written in around five hours on the last day in a last minute attempt for the goal).
My third NaNoWriMo was a spectacular failure along the same lines of my first year. I attempted (and failed) to revisit the same character’s world. My lesson learned? I do need a general idea of where the plot is going, even if it’s just a paragraph. Because I didn’t have any direction, I wasted my time on a long-winded, rabbit trail beginning. The month ended just as I introduced the secondary characters who would carry the plot. The story is, once again, on the back burner. One day I hope to find the right plot devise to complete it.
By this time, I noticed a trend happening. I didn’t dream in novels anymore, but in series. Case in point: my main character from my teenage novel turned her story into a series spanning several novels.
My fourth NaNoWriMo flew by in a little blip compared to all my senior year college classes and work. It was a failed attempt to return to fantasy. I should have known better. Happily, it marked the beginning of a new writing phase—the addition of Japanese influence derived from my love of reading literature from Japan.
My final semester of college demonstrated this new influence even more clearly. I had to write a creative thesis, aka a short story, to graduate. So I once again drew upon my daydreams. But this time I intentionally created a Japanese character and his granddaughter. They ended up being the two main secondary characters who supported my main character (and gave me plenty of opportunities to boggle my critique partners with Japanese words).
Of course, I couldn’t limit my idea to one novel, so I lopped off the first plot arc and compacted it into an awkward short story which facilitated my graduation. But I always thought about going back and rewriting the story as it might have been. This itch inspired my fifth NaNoWriMo.
Initially, I conceived the original story idea as a final capstone novel in a long running series. I decided to be proper about it and start writing at the chronological beginning. I ended NaNoWriMo with two novellas in hand and an abrupt epiphany that I’d gone down the wrong path. With great regret I locked away both in the never-to-be-revisited folder. I’d written my 50k plus more but all in vain. Right? Perhaps. But at least that was all it cost to set me on the right track as a writer/novelist.
I learned that sometimes you just have to try out an idea or two before you find something that works. But the beauty of writing is that each time you write, be it trash or treasure, you learn something which helps you become a better writer. The key to bettering yourself is to practice prolifically and NaNoWriMo is perfect for that. It gives you that kick in the pants needed to force you into making time for writing.
Finally last year, I used my sixth NaNoWriMo to work on that “right track” for that story. It’s still in progress and has morphed into a duology. Also, it’s set me up for a new challenge this coming November—writing from a male character, 1st person POV whose personality is very different from my own.
I issued a similar challenge to a fellow writer and, if all goes well, we’ll write about our experiences at the end of the year. I believe it will be eye-opening.
Also this year, I’m going to have a NaNoWriMo adventure outside the pages of a novel. I’ll be participating from South Korea as I live and work there. I’m counting on NaNoWriMo to introduce me to kindred spirits in the area. The community surrounding NaNoWriMo is truly the second best part of the experience because it allows you to write within a peer collective, all of whom are working towards the same goal: 50k novel-worthy words.
NaNoWriMo opened my eyes, revealing that as much as I love reading and writing, I’m not alone—not by a long shot. I thrive on the friendly competition and encouraging atmosphere. I would not be where I am without it and when I finally publish a novel it’ll be a sure bet that I drafted it during a NaNoWriMo.
I can’t wait to add my name to the list of published authors on the NaNoWriMo website. Perhaps I’ll see you there, too.
Yours between the lines,