Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

Good morning, travelers!

This morning, I’m going to talk about the torture and transcendence that is National Novel Writing Month.

If you are a writer or know many writers, there is a chance you’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month, shortened to NaNoWriMo. It’s an event every November (and again slightly different in the summer) where writers all over the world attempt to write a 50k-word fiction novel, start to finish, alone, in 30 days. If you’re thinking, ‘that’s crazy, no one can do that!’ I’m here to tell you everyone feels that way. We also feel, ‘that’s crazy, WHY would anyone do that?’ and that question is a bit trickier to answer because it’s different for everyone.

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A beacon of hope and a threat of despair

For me, it’s the only way anything gets finished. I can’t think of a single novel I’ve written that wasn’t started or completed during a NaNo event. I have a very specific kind of competitive nature, and that isn’t the need to do better than other people, but rather to not do worse than I have in the past. I might not need to beat a previous record, but maintaining it is essential. I’ve never lost a NaNo event, in November or in the summer.

NaNo saw the birth of every one of my Greenstalk books, beginning with Magic Beans, which I wrote in two weeks. My very first NaNo we don’t talk about because it’s awful, but I wrote it while I was also writing three essays, working on my thesis (which required hours of travel), and cooking a full Thanksgiving for 21 people in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. The next one fell, fully formed, into my brain and it only took 30 days to write it all down with almost no planning at all.

Book cover 2012

My first attempt at PhotoShop, too. A lot of firsts in this one.

It’s not all divine inspiration and dangerous levels of caffeine, of course. Many years, the damn things refuse to be written, or I’m struggling with debilitating malaise. Camp NaNo, the summer events, allow you to work on previously started projects, and I’ll admit, more than one November project has been dusted off and refurbished during that time. Some of them still aren’t finished. (*Cough– looking at you, Siren Song— cough*)

One undeniable and tantatlising aspect of NaNoWriMo is the sense of community. Creative types tend to gravitate toward other creative types, so there’s a real sense of November being something to look forward to. A crucible by which the craziest of writers are forged. Almost all of my friends are writers, so it’s fun to see who’s going to participate this year, what we’re working on, offer support, encouragement, caffeine, and a sounding board off which to bounce ideas. My family and I talk of almost nothing else all month but what funny line we came up with or what perilous situation we’ve thrown at our characters. Most cities have at least one regional chapter which has its own page on the website, and their Municipal Liaison sets up in-person meetups and writing parties during the month. I myself was an ML in 2013.

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Got the badge to prove it

Writing is hard, hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. You have to come up with a whole believable cast, dramatic situations, dialogue, descriptions, themes and motifs, characters arcs and plot. It’s a mess. Add family and holidays and regular everyday life and a deadline on top of it and it becomes an angsty mess.

But the whole point is that if you can lay down 50 thousand words worth of foundation (it doesn’t have to be good– quantity over quality is our mantra) in November of all months, what’s stopping you the rest of the year?

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