NaNoWriMo 2023: What I Learned to Write

It has been four years since I completed the first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I was grateful that I had kept notes (one entry here) so I could re-orient myself to the process for this year. The main set-up idea was to create about 29 blank Word/Pages files labeled Day 1, etc. This past year has been a complicated one for me emotionally, and I had been avoiding certain kinds of writing because it was just too hard, which was why I decided it was time to let things work themself out with a full month of writing for at least a concentrated hour to hour and a half every day. Once again, it was a challenge. Several times I wanted to just stop. My brain was full. I couldn't think of a story. Bla bla bla.

I knew there was no way I would have a big arc for a novel, but I would concentrate on writing short stories, even if I had to write a few short-short stories in one day. It turned out that once I let myself go deeper, there was only one longer story a day. Every night I was sure I had no idea what the next story would be. But the next day there was always something: sometimes an object sparked my interest, sometimes an emotion or interaction, sometimes a place, sometimes the fragment of a dream.

I had made a list of things I wanted to attack. And to give it a structure or theme, I chose the title "Small Attachments" and made a list of attachments to the Kitchen Aid mixer (because there are so many.) Ultimately, some of my notes grabbed me and became real stories, others became half-assed sketches, and once those were out of my system, my imagination took over. It was as if the creative part of my writing brain had been buried. By the last several stories I was working with a clean brain.

One thing that was new and helpful: I typed my start time in the header so I knew how long I had been writing. The header doesn't show up in the word count. Then I logged in to update my progress at the NaNoWriMo website. You can choose to make it all public or private. I keep it private, just for me.

I finished a day early. It was such a release. I felt like crying. Got my badge. 

And donated to their program, which includes youth education and teacher resources. From their website: NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides the structure, community, and encouragement to help people use their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds – on and off the page.

This month I am also reading an instructional book by the fiction writer George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain [paid Amazon link], based on the Russian Literature course he teaches at Syracuse University. Although I had studied three years at San Francisco State University and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing, I found that there was much to learn from Saunders' book. It wasn't so much new material as a new angle of looking at a story. Saunders breaks a story down and shows what might stop the reader and what propels them onward. I've always had trouble with plot, so it was a big help to me. He used the word "unexpected," which was helpful: what is something unexpected that might happen next? It is related to the idea of the "stakes of a story," which I wrote about in 2010 here.

A friend joked that December will be NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), and that may be the case. I will have a lot to work with! It is also often true that the first paragraph one writes is like a clearing of the throat, a way to get to that clear voice and one should toss it out. The first stories may be like that as well. We shall see. Even if none of these stories are worth pursuing, the process was certainly enlightening. Will I do it again? When I feel compelled to, I will.

Pond in the Rain, 2008