I Tried Writing A Novel In A Month, Here’s What Happened

For those of you who aren’t aware, November was National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short), where the goal is to write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in just 30 days. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo pretty consistently since my first Camp NaNoWriMo event in July 2014, and in fact, I won two Camp NaNoWriMo events in April 2015 and April 2016. However, my last win on the site was in April 2016, back when I was still in high school; I’ve never actually completed the goal of 50,000-words during the month of November.

I decided that I was going to make this my year of not only breaking my ‘losing’ streak—although I use the term ‘losing’ to mean not reaching the official goal, because any amount that is written is an unofficial win in my books—but also focusing on something purely for myself. 

For the past six years, I’ve had my heart set on being a published author. However, since starting university, I’ve found it difficult to focus on that goal. This November, I decided I would remove myself if only for a few hours a day to write a novel that might never see the light of day.

I did question whether it was a good decision, especially considering I had many large papers due at the end of the term. However, despite all the odds stacked against me, I figured I might as well just start and see how far I could go. Thus, on October 31st, with only a few ideas in mind, I created my project and waited for the clock to strike midnight.

Now, I won’t lie: I didn’t start from scratch. The project I chose to work on in November was one that I had already started writing twice. In fact, during a previous NaNoWriMo, I had gotten to just over 8,000 words with it. I decided to be a rebel of sorts and restart that project, using my original 8,000 words as a reference.

One of the first things that really helped me push through and get to writing was the fact that reading week had been pushed back to the first week of November. As much as many of my peers hated it, I found having a week with no academic responsibly to be just what I needed. It meant that when I logically should have been working on assignments during the week, I ended up also having an excuse to work on my novel. With the help of my reference material, I managed to stay consistently ahead of the daily word goal, and by the end of the first week, I was feeling incredibly optimistic about being able to actually "win."

I truly believe the only reason I managed to write at all the second week of November—the same week that classes started again—was because of those 8,000 words of reference. They gave me material to dip into when I was struggling to find the words or characterization, and they especially helped me not worry as much when I had to start focusing more on readings and assignments.

My original 8,000 words managed to stretch out in my NaNoWriMo 2019 project to about 17,000 words, between me adding in plot elements I hadn’t considered previously and adding characterization that hadn’t been present before. By the end of week two, I was flying blind in my story, with only vague ideas of what I wanted to happen. But I was ahead, and I figured that would keep me steady.

This, as it would turn out, was not the case.

          Screenshot of the author’s NaNoWriMo profile showing overall progress towards 50,000 words.

In the third week of NaNoWriMo, I not only fell incredibly behind in my writing but truly started to question my story as a whole. It was as though every time I started new chapters, things didn’t turn out how I thought they would, and the incredible pressure to want to write something good made me wonder why I was actually writing my novel. 

But at the same time, I felt incredibly proud of how far I’d gotten. At this point, I had broken the halfway mark of my novel, which was further than I had gotten for a NaNoWriMo event in three years, and I wanted to see where exactly this novel was going to go. One of the nice things about NaNoWriMo, I reminded myself, is that it’s a first draft that nobody has to see, so who really cares how messy and disorganized it is?

By the end of November 24th—the beginning of week four—I was sitting at 31,545 words when the goal for that day was just over 40,000 words. I looked at how much I had written, and how far I had left to go, and mentally had to determine if I thought I could do about 20,000 words in a week’s time.

It was at that moment, I remembered my last NaNoWriMo win in April 2016. Back then, I had been sitting at approximately the same number of words as this year at the start of week four, but miraculously, I managed to win that month. That reminder was all I needed: I was capable of writing that many words, and in fact, my story deserved those words.

So, I set to writing whenever I had the chance. Some days I only wrote 2,000 words, and other days as many as 4,000 words, but at the end of the week, at 11:50 pm on November 30th, I updated my word count to 50,082 words. With a novel that wasn’t actually complete—nor had it gone in the direction I thought it would— I won my first ever NaNoWriMo.

          Screenshot from the author’s NaNoWriMo profile showing daily words written during NaNoWriMo 2019.

NaNoWriMo is not an easy task, and I’m proud to have done the thing I set out to do at the beginning of November. I went into the month with a few characters and some plot ideas, and throughout the course of the month, my characters constantly surprised me by acting against the plot I had imagined, revealing traits I had never considered for them and giving my novel the depth I hadn’t imagined it could have. My unfinished first draft is not good, nor will it be seen by anybody for at least a few rounds of edits once it’s completed, but it’s my words on the page, and whether they are good words or not, it doesn’t matter.

I truly think that this past month of trying to juggle work, school and writing a novel has opened my eyes to my own capabilities. I’m someone who can write 50,000 words in a month during one of the busiest months of the term. Not only that, but I’m someone who can prioritize my own goals, even if some might see it as a waste of time. This month taught me that the things I want to do are worth it, because no matter the hardships that I endured to reach 50,000 words, nothing compared to the feeling of reaching my goal and seeing that ‘Winner’ badge appear on my screen.

          Screenshot from the NaNoWriMo site showcasing the badge the author earned after updating the word count to 50,000 words.

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