NaNoWriMo for women’s fiction writers seems like an oxymoron. Writing about women and their relationships requires careful, deep creativity. National Novel Writing Month urges speed and volume of words. As a writer of upmarket, magical realism fiction, I’ve nevertheless found NaNoWriMo invvaluable. It’s helped me build my craft and my writing life in several ways. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in writing women’s fiction three times now. It has helped me build skills of endurance and belief in my fiction. I don’t always create a whole new book, but my most recent book, The invisibles, begin in NaNoWriMo 2016. It began with a terrible loss, My 64-year-old brother died of cancer on October 10. To lose my only sibling at a time and in a way I never expected hit me like a train. Grief is such a physical thing, and it knocked me seriously sidways.
I threw myself into NaNoWriMo to escape the grief over losing him. I wanted to write about the complex and sometimes wonderful relationship of siblings. I wanted to make a tribute to him in fiction.
What I wound up with is something that felt like a full draft, but wasn’t. I hit my 50 K. And for the next three years, With the help of agents and editors and beta readers, I turned it into a real novel.
Three years later, and I’ve signed up with another project that’s already underway. Timegathered, another time travel novel, a prequel to The Renaissance Club, enters NaNoWiMo fleshed out but not fully drafted. It’s beginning the month of November with nearly 60,000 words, and a goal of reaching 70,000. As you can see, I set myself a very modest goal, compared to the usual 50K NaNo monthly-long marathon.
What I bring into this NaNo is a habit developed in that first NaNoWriMo and strengthened during the last three years. It’s simply to devote at least one hour every morning to my writing. Revising or not, drafting or not, fiction or poetry, whatever my muse wants to steer me to. Though I may dive back in for time And throughout the day and night, that sacred first hour of writing sets me up well. Its purity of purpose anchors me. To prepare, I simply think about what I need to do next during the evening before. Maybe five minutes. That’s all it takes, and when I rouse myself in the morning, I open the laptop and file and begin.
I value NaNoWriMo not for the words, not for the hours, but for the wonderful habit of writing every day, and believing that what I’m doing will create a work of value to others. There’s a seriousness about joining in this worldwide community writing marathon that subtly increases my sense of self-worth as a writer.
After that first project in 2016, I kept going with daily writing. I went for months and months. I believed I could really make this book happen quickly, and part of the grieving process was an urgency to finish it and get it out there. From the depths it had emerged, and that depth made me feel this would be the best thing I ever wrote. Three years later, it’s finally finished. It wasn’t a one-year book, but the work that flowed from me beyond NaNo was life-altering.
It’s still ingrained in me to turn my thoughts to my writing projects first thing every morning. I don’t always get to write that day, but mostly I do. For at least an hour. I’m so grateful to National Novel Writing Month, this vast club of Writers that every November dedicates itself to the goal of completing a book.