Sometimes the world conspires against you.

Sometimes you go out of your way to stay up late and work on your novel at midnight on November 1st. You get about 2,000 words into it. Then the power goes out.

When was the last time I hit “save”? Quick! Where can I write down my train of thought before it derails? I was on a roll. I couldn’t just go to bed without knowing how much of my work I had lost.

The power came back on about 40 minutes later. 40 minutes that I had spent in the dark, crazy muttering to my cats about my lost novel and the precious words that were wasting away in my head.

Hey, it was about 2 am. I had been up a long time. I was sucking down large gulps of caffeinated green tea (I hate coffee and I never drink caffeine) from an oversized mug that reads “A GIANT CUP OF I DON’T GIVE A SHIT”.

Needless to say, I was not at my most sane point in life.


Then my wireless keyboard batteries were dead. Dead! It was as if the gods had decided that I was not to write my novel.

That was the rocky beginning of my journey into NaNoWriMo this year.

My personal goal was to write at least 2,000 words a day so that I would end the contest with 60,000 words.

On day 1 I wrote 8,719 words. I was elated that I had knocked out that many right off. I even re-read my work and it wasn’t half bad!

Day 3 was the magical day that I discovered word sprints. (Word sprints are when you set a timer and write as many words as possible during that time.)

It was awesome. I would do 30 minute sprints and found that under pressure, I was writing roughly 1,000 words in 30 minutes. In my 4th sprint, I did over 1,500 words!  I ended the day with 6,763 new words.

I also found a thrill and motivation from discovering on day 3 that two of my favorite books, “Water for Elephants” and “The Night Circus” were NaNo books.

(You have no idea how much I love “The Night Circus”. That book is amaze-balls, if you haven’t read already. Read it now! Stop reading my blog and go get this book!) If you’re interested, there is a list of 8 bestsellers that began as NaNo novels here.

Day 4 was the day that the bones in my hands and forearms ached constantly. Yes, this happens from typing. Yes, it hurts. Still, I kept at the word sprints and hit the halfway point.

I had a total of 25,057 words at the end of the day and I was amazed. I had doubled the size of my novel in 4 days! I didn’t really believe it then and I’m not sure I really believe it now.

The thing is, I knew at the beginning, before I even started, that I had to knock out as many words as possible in the first few days. I know myself well enough and I’ve experienced it in previous years that as the month goes on and the holidays get started, I will lose momentum.

So I hunkered down (as we say in the south). I hammered away at my poor, overused keyboard in the beginning of the month.

I also procrastinated like nobodies business and read almost every ridiculous article on the internet and watched old youtube videos from 2009 about NaNo.

Day 7: I’m pretty sure that I wrote the worst paragraphs I’ve ever written on this day. Still, I sat down and hit my 2,000 word goal for the day and I moved past a part of the story that I hadn’t been looking forward to writing.

Day 9 was the NaNoWriMo writing marathon. The marathon was a day I looked forward to. I was so excited. Then the day of the marathon did not go as planned.

The power went out and the Internet went down. (This whole power going out regularly thing was a new situation at my house, another obvious sign that the gods hate my novel.) Still, I had set a goal of writing 6,000 words that day and I forced myself through it.

My saving grace, once again, was the magic of NaNo Word Sprints. 15 minute sprints work wonders.

My characters did not fare well during this day. Three of them died, one became a monster, another was shot and one other went to prison. My characters kinda hate me right now.

Days 10 through 13 were what I call doldrum days. These are the days when I had no interest in my novel, hated everything about it, thought it was awful, mundane, not worth going on.

I skipped a few days of writing. One day I eked out a little over 900 words that were complete crap and probably won’t make it out of editing. The fact that I was over 40,000 words in is what got me out of this. I wanted to win, dammit.

Day 13 I made it past 45,000 words and knew the end was in sight. I was excited, and scared.

I wanted to win NaNoWriMo, which I had no doubt at this point would happen, but I also wanted to have a complete first draft by the end of the month.

I was well aware that my story was nowhere near finished yet. I worried that once I hit 50,000 words, I would stop writing.

So I almost stopped writing here to prolong the agony. Because humans. Are. Weird. and I am no exception.

I worried myself over using the same words repetitively, not being descriptive enough, and just generally not being good enough.

On Day 14 I hit 51,348 words around 11pm. My wrists hurt. I had had maybe four hours of sleep the previous night. I wanted to be excited, but more than that, I wanted to go to bed.

I also discovered at this point that the NaNoWriMo word validator was coming up with a different number from my word processor. It was about 1,000 words less.

This confused me, but was alright because I was still over 50,000 words and it was one day before the halfway mark. I, as my friend Jessica kept telling me, was on fire.

I revised my word count goal for the month to 80,000 or when the story ended. I wanted to keep writing my daily goal of 2,000 words.

Days 15 through 22 were days that were devoted to other things. I opened an Etsy shop, started to learn needle felting and focused more on everyday life things.

Like the two weeks worth of laundry that had piled up and the other messes that my living space had somehow accumulated. I wrote not a word. And I felt awful about it.

It loomed over me every day that my novel was languishing, wilting away, and that I wasn’t going to meet my goal if I didn’t get my ass in gear. I internally beat myself up a lot during this time.

Day 23 I finally sucked it up and started typing again. Also, for some reason (maybe because I used to binge-read The Hunger Games trilogy and it wrecked me over and over), this pep talk by Lev Grossman hit home and armed me to keep on keeping on.

So I ended up writing almost 9,000 words between Day 23 and 25.

When the clock struck midnight on the 25th, the first day that people could start validating their word counts for reals, my word count had already been validated and my stats on the site automatically updated to show that I, as it stated, was a “WINNER”.

I claimed my goodies and printed out my certificate. It is awesome to have in my hand.

This thrilled me to death. I wanted to shout it out my door so all the neighbors would hear. I had not only hit over 60,000 words, but I was an officially declared 2013 National Novel Writing Month Winner! Yay!!!

I had even picked out an image to help commemorate the occasion:

I’m willing to admit that I basked in my winner glory for a little bit.

This didn’t help alleviate the pressure I was feeling, though. I wanted that complete first draft. Bad. I wanted to finish the month with 80,000 words or a finished first draft if it killed me.

I may have wasted a week away, but I still had a week to write as many words as possible. I was in it to win it (as Randy Jackson would say).

I had written almost 30,000 words in the first 5 days of the month, so I knew I could write just as many in the last 5 days of the month.

Two days before Thanksgiving I got a commission for other work and was focused on that.

And, you know, Thanksgiving.

On day 29, I decided that the last two days of NaNo would be dedicated to finishing the book. However many words that took.

I wasn’t so sure, on day 30, that I would make it. My extremely rough outline still had a lot of sections on it that I hadn’t written yet.

I just kept writing, though, and my story ended up finishing itself at about 8:30 pm. I had written 76,778 words in the month of November and I had a complete first draft.

I was elated! Before NaNoWriMo, I had written 20,385 words, so my first draft came in at 97,163 words.

My stats screen on November 30th.

I printed all 150 pages and laid it to the side to give it some time to breath before I start editing.

The month was full of it’s highs and lows. It was amazing. It was terrible. I loved all of it.

I learned that I write better with noise in the background, but not the television. I need music.

I learned I need a timer running to focus. If I just start writing with no end in sight, then I’m not as productive.

On the flip side, I learned that if I don’t watch it, I will just quit writing when the timer stops, even if I am in the middle of writing a scene and have in my head where it is going next.

I learned that having a friend who is also participating that I know, in person, helps me. I have someone to talk to every day about my word count and my crazy day. And this year I had that.

I also learned that having writing buddies on the NaNo site is a great motivator. I am super competitive. Seeing that I had gotten ahead of all my writing buddies on day 1, I decided I had to stay ahead of them.

I loved the community on the site, on Twitter. Not so much the community on some Facebook groups. Once I learned which groups weren’t my kind of place, I stayed away from them.

It would help me to write if I wrote even a few words and updated my NaNo page so it was listed on my stats. I would see that 40 or so words listed and be motivated to get it over a thousand words for the day.

I learned and mastered the art of procrastination. I was already a procrastinator previously, but I truly mastered it in November.

Sometimes I desperately needed a plot bunny to hop out from wherever they come from and start nibbling at my brain. For these moments, I would email my story to myself in PDF format, step away from my writing space, and sit down to read what I had written.

I wasn’t allowed to edit or remove anything. I just had to read it as if it was someone else’s story that I had picked up. This always helped me to figure out where the story was going next. As I would read, the story would fill itself in.

I learned what I’ve heard a million times over and it never clicked before: just show up.

Writing is work and it is going to take a lot of drafts for my little novel to make it to a point where it is ready for public consumption. But it will never get there if I don’t actually write.

So, I gave myself the permission to suck. My only goal was to get words on the page. And if I showed up and did the work, I won.

I will never, ever, have words written, have a complete book, if I don’t sit down and write.

NaNoWriMo teaches you discipline. It teaches you to sit your ass down and grind out some words even when you feel like it is the last thing you want to do.

I am not a person who likes outlines in any form. They just don’t do it for me. But I had read a blog post somewhere the week before NaNo started that suggested that you write out 30 sentences, one for each day of NaNoWriMo.

If you can write 2,000 words per day for each sentence, you’ll be a winner by the end of the month.

I didn’t follow that idea precisely, but I did find it helpful. I kept a stack of papers numbered 1 through 30 beside my keyboard for the month. I would write out where I saw the story going in the next few days and it helped keep me on track.

I could read my scribbles and start the next scene with some confidence that I knew what was happening. So thanks to that blog writer for the idea!

I have no clue who wrote it and where I saw it… I was somewhat dismissive of the idea before I tried it so I didn’t go out of my way to keep track of where it came from. Any of you know the blog post I’m talking about?

Most of all, I learned that first drafts are crap. That’s just the way it has to be.

A first draft is where you literally poop out whatever ideas and craziness happens to be running around in your head.

You are left with a smelly pile of first draft poop that is masking your wonderful gem of a novel. You have to sculpt and edit that pile multiple times until it shines and everyone is able to see it’s beauty.

It’s your wonderful little poop draft and you’re going to have to baby that mo fo until everyone can love it too. (Are you tired of the poop analogy yet? Cause that how you’re going to feel about that shitty first draft- it is going to exhaust the hell out of you.)

This first draft crap is what has to happen to end up with a piece of writing that is worth a damn.

Without this first draft, you don’t have a book.

You have an idea. In your head. You don’t have words on a page. You don’t have anything.

You have to shit out this first draft. It is just the way it has to be.

Thanks for the lessons, NaNoWriMo. Thanks for everything. You reminded me this year why I loved doing this event that first time in 2004.

Congratulations to everyone who won and those who didn’t win but attempted to. If you came out of it with more words than you started with, you are a winner.