The Never Ending Story

It took a little longer than expected, but it finally happened. After a little under a year, the first draft of the novel I started writing during National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, which you read more about here) has finally come to a conclusion! This has by far been the most ambitious writing project I’ve ever put my mind to, and it has been at the same time both challenging and rewarding. When I wrote the last words, a somewhat cliché “The end,” I had written a cumulative 104,148 words over 230 pages. The page count is inflated slightly due to some page formatting, but nevertheless it is a feat that I am not taking lightly.

Before this, the longest story I had ever started and completed was probably around 30 pages total, which is about how long short stories were supposed to be in the creative writing workshops I participated in at Emory University. It wasn’t that I never had designs of writing longer fiction – I do plan on becoming an eccentric reclusive novelist one day – I just never felt like I had the bandwith or the right idea at the time to start on such a daunting task. I also used to think that before writing a novel I should better hone my skills so that the novel I’d write wouldn’t be the worst thing ever written, a thought that held me back even when I was probably ready to give it a try.

I missed my first real chance to write a novel just before my senior year of college. As a Creative Writing major, if I had made the honors program, the thesis I would have had to write would have been a novel (or a collection of poetry, but I would have probably gone with the novel option). Unfortunately, probably due to less than stellar grades in Intro to Psychology and Roman Britain, I missed the cut-off GPA to enter the honors program by the smallest of margins. I tried to argue that my ~3.496 GPA was close enough to the required 3.5, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. In the end, it was probably for the best that I missed the cut due to another large writing assignment I had for my fraternity, but it still would have been satisfying to have made it into the program.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo in the fall of 2012. A friend in my Intro to Journalism course, then a veteran of four NaNo marathons, introduced me to the concept as something I might have interest in. I did a little research and tried it out that year, but didn’t make it past the second day. Course work and extracurriculars already ate up enough of my time to the point that I couldn’t possibly meet the goal of 50,000 words in a month. Though I didn’t get very far that year, I was determined to try it again another time.

2016 seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally realize that goal. I was living on my own and had no major commitments, other than 8+ hours a day to my day job. To make things a little easier for myself, I decided to try to rewrite the story I had originally started in 2012 in order to make brainstorming the plot a little easier. Even still, I knew it was going to be difficult to find the drive each and every day to write write write. With this in mind, I added an extra spin to the holiday: I posted once a day to Facebook to update my inner circle of the novel’s progression. Once the ball was rolling, I couldn’t just stop in the middle and never finish. I couldn’t let my fans, the ones who would always comment on my statuses and became avid fans of the daily updates, down so easily. The threat of the social backlash I’d receive if I didn’t complete the project was actually one of the major factors that kept me moving forward. There were a couple of days I didn’t manage to write much (or some days anything at all), but those were few and far between.

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A word-cloud of the most common words in the novel at the 50,000 word mark, made using tools from Voyant.

It took a lot of work, but I eventually hit the 50k mark on November 30th, just in time to “win” the contest. I wrote on a bus and on a train, late at night and in the rain. I wrote in my apartment and a few Starbucks, and by the time it was over the most common word was “Fuck.” Despite this achievement, I still had a long way to go. 50,000 words was NaNo’s arbitrary mark to indicate how long a novel could be, but it was far short of what it was going to take to finish this particular story. I knew at the end of November that 50,000 words was only going to get me to around the plot’s halfway point, and that if I was going to finish it, and I knew I was, then I was going to have to put in a bit more effort.

Buuuut I wasn’t going to do that so soon after the end of NaNoWriMo. I was mentally drained after the exhausting sprint to the end, and I wanted/needed to take a bit of a break. I did start writing again a few weeks into December, but the drive wasn’t the same. I wasn’t going to keep continuously updating my Facebook status (to the joy of those who I may have annoyed), and the cool word-tracking functions the NaNoWriMo site employed during the month of November, which helped incentivize writing, were shut down come the end of the contest.

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A sample of progress-tracking tools on the NaNoWriMo website. Note the Herculean effort made in the final days to make up for lost time to get to the needed word count.

Writing came in bits and spurts in the weeks and months that followed, and the progress was much slower than it once was. Where it took me a month to write the first 50,000 words, it took me another 10ish months to write the next 50,000.

But I finally did it. I finished the damn thing. The past week or two I was almost back in NaNo mode. Being so close to the finish line created the drive I needed to come back night after night to put fingers to keyboard.

Now comes the fun part: editing! I am literally a pro at editing, but I am well aware of the challenges of revising one’s own work. What I do have going for me is that since a good portion of the novel is already a year old, I have enough emotional distance to edit it without abandon. I can change vast swaths of text and not have a heart attack over it. Since NaNoWriMo encourages writing as much as possible without going back to edit, I’m sure there’s plenty there to keep me busy for a while.

I’m sure I’ll let you guys know when I finish the revision process with another lengthy blog post, but in the mean time, anyone know any good literary agents?


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