What Just Happened?

An Incomplete Journey of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part 1

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 38 Days: The Decision

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting creative writing. Its main program is an annual event in which crazy people attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during November.

My math skills tell me that comes to 1,667 words per day. That sounds simple, but if I look back, maybe not. The last novel I completed as part of a series I have been working on (super-secret information here) was 128,896 words. It took me roughly 4 months to complete it, which averages 1,074-ish words per day. Some days I wrote more. Some days I wrote two words.

Nevertheless, I believe I can hit that 1,667-word mark.

My decision to “enter” NaNoWriMo this year was driven by years of thinking “I should do this.” Therapists around the world are probably screaming that you can’t “should” your way through life. And so, as I’m married to a therapist, I have opted to omit the word “should” from that sentence.

I do this.

Okay. I’m off to a good start.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 30 Days: The Outline

I have an idea and cursory outline. The humans are ambivalent about my success, however. They do not seem inclined to bake me a cake for just my outline. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with what I have put together from just an initial glance at a brainstorming app. For the record, the app spit back at me the following: Conflict = Coming-of-Age; Style = A Hero’s Journey; Setting = Greek Islands.

From that I came up with a hastily written summary.

I entered that summary and some project details into the NaNoWriMo website and noticed the following procrastination tools right away: upload a cover image and a little spot to put in “What is the project’s playlist?” (There is also a spot for “What is the project’s Pinterest?” but I must draw the line somewhere.)

Off to play with cover tools and Spotify, because, you know, the writing site says I need this to be successful. As I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, who am I to argue?

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 29 Days: A Self-Imposed Deadline

NaNoWriMo has its own deadline, of course: between November 1st and the 30th, write a first draft. However, as I have been working on another novel, I am inclined to finished it before November comes. That gives me 29 days to write another 30,000 words on something that is 180° different. The two stories are also set thousands of years apart and they both require completely different mindsets.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 26 Days: Flesh It Out

I probably need to flesh out the cursory outline and add some details. The NaNoWriMo website says:

We welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged, and you’re welcome to continue an old project.

This is definitely not an old project, but I will feel better if I have an outline. I’m not a pantser. Really. In fact, I may be a little OCD about the process.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 23 Days: Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

Researching, outlining, and thinking hard about the flow of a book prior to NaNoWriMo feels like cheating, but I know it’s not (see previous). Still, I feel like doing my research under the covers to make sure no one is watching.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 21 Days: Should Have Set This in My House

I really do like research, but I’m beginning to think I bit off more than I can chew for this one. However, I have a plan: the story is what matters most, not the details of the location. So, if I write my setting more generically and worry about the details in my first rewrite (after November), I might not get so bogged down in the little things that the writing suffers.

Oh, look. An article on making olive oil in Ancient Greece.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 15 Days: Let Me Start Already

It’s hard to wait when another idea has infected your brain and keeps pushing out competing ideas or a new project like some bully. But! I have put together a cheap cover because the NaNoWriMo website says it is imperative.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 10 Days: More Ready Than Ready

I had a novella I was working on that I did not know if I could complete before the beginning of NaNoWriMo. It appears my estimation of time was off. With that project done, I can run it through one edit then let it sit through November. Things are looking up and I feel more ready than I did when I first decided to attempt this.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 7 Days: Outline? Check. Schedule? Check. Anxiety? Yep.

So I have my outline, my cover, and yes, even a Spotify playlist with one to two songs that set the mood for each chapter. I know I need to write an average of 1,667 words per day, which means I need to schedule my writing time a little better. With a day job that starts at 7 AM and because I am a writer who does his best in the morning, I need about 2 hours of uninterrupted time each day. Add in coffee for that wake up half hour, a bit of breakfast and 5 seconds to get ready for work (ah, remote work), I estimate I need to get up 4 AM each morning.

I must say, however, with one week to go, I am extremely anxious. Success for me would mean meeting the word count goal, if not completing the novel entirely.

But as my therapist wife would ask: “What would it mean if you didn’t complete your goal?”

In the words of Bill the Cat: “Aack! Thbtttt!”

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 3 Days: The Website Goes Deep

With three days left until I start this adventure, I am just now noticing that the NaNoWriMo website is FULL of content, from tips and advice to linking up with buddies to motivate you through the writing process, to joining in forums and more. Notice I said “with three days left until…”

And here I was thinking this was going to be a lonely adventure.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 1 Day: Are You Sure?

At this point, without having started the novel that I have outlined extensively, I could withdraw myself from the competition. After all, I cannot expect to spit out genius hastily over 30 days.

Yet there is a part of me that wants to try. If you do not try, you will not succeed. You may trip, fall, scrape a knee, and fail miserably. Conversely, you may surprise yourself with your commitment. Perhaps just the attempt is a success and pledging to give up 30 days under the guise of a “competition” like NaNoWriMo is just different enough from writing for 30 days without the self-imposed pressures that what you have written will be memorable even with the flaws that are certainly going to be there.

Perhaps.

Why not? We’ll just see what happens.

****Benjamin is presently bruising his fingers looking for the 50,000 mark. The last time this editor checked in, he was close to it already!! Will he survive? Stay tuned for Part II coming early December.****


Benjamin X. Wretlind

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.

If you don't try, you won't succeed.