…and yes, I am going to buy the tee-shirt.

The task? Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Usually, I use National Novel Writing Month to get as much word count aspossible on my work-in-progress. This is already cheating—but since I’ve never come close to winning, I haven’t felt guilty about it.

But three days before the start of this year’s NaNo, my editor says, “Katherine, we need to start thinking about the next book.” Now,this does not constitute a book contract, but it does constitute a challenge. I decide to begin a new novel on November 1 and that this year I will “win” NaNoWriMo.

Day 1: Brainstorm—characters, ideas, suggestions from Facebookfriends, (Hula Hoops, a camel, a zeppelin and “copious amounts of defenestration.”) I write all this sort of thing into what Janet LeeCarey calls a “story journal.” At The Den in Bothell, I try to write the opening scene, but a man at the next table is determined to attract my attention. I turn him into an eleven-year-old girl with black fingernail polish and add him to my word count. My goal is 2,000 words a day. I’m going to finish early!

Day 2: Teaching day. Spend the entire day on lessons, and the entire evening hosting the Duvall 1st Wednesday Poetry Reading at Match Coffee and Wine Bar in Duvall, But, it’s only Day 2, right?

Day 3: Up to 1710 words. I’ll catch up.

Day 4: Paesano’s Coffee in Monroe. Lots of story journaling. A hunky, shirtless guy on a dirtbike has appeared and called my heroine Principessa. All in all, not a bad writing day.

Day 5: My son takes the SAT, so I hole up at Caffé Ladro in Edmonds and write. I hear an NPR interview on Joan of Arc and decide she’ll have to go into thebook—somehow.

Day 8: My protagonist nearly drowns, so I spent many hours researching water safety on Mario Vittone’s blog. Then I teach a teen poetry workshop for RASP.

Days 9-14:Hunky guy doesn’t want protagonist to know he saved her life. Girl with black fingernail polish follows protagonist everywhere. Up to 12,769 words. Still behind, but I have lots of time.

Day 15: Wee hours of the morning. I watch a live feed of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zucotti Park. Suddenly my screen freezes.When I reboot, my entire D drive is gone. Restore takes all day.

Day 16: Teaching day. D drive disappears again overnight.

Day 17: Restore.

Days18-19: TEENWrite Because I’ve put TEENWrite into thebook, I come as my protagonist’s character, an elf.

Days20–26: School break. When I’ve had a goodwriting day, I get to watch Dr. Who.Make it to 17,963. 32k to go, which is somewhat alarming. Make plan for writing 8k per day which is, frankly, impossible. Paste the story I wrote at TEENWrite into the book for another 857words. This is not really cheating.

Day 27: My daughter, Sarah walks by my office and says innocently,“Why don’t you include your story journal in your word count? It IS part of writing your novel.” Word count jumps suddenly by 7k.

Day 28: My friend, MollyBlaisdell dares me to write over 8k in a day.She uses Muppet Movie tickets as bait. (Molly’s picture book THE BIG FUZZY COAT is a contender on theMeeGenius Author Challenge) I add 8265words, including Psalm 69, which I cut and paste in its entirety. (One of the characters prays a lot.)

Day 29: One of my characters says, “Do you want me to tell you what Hindus believe?” Bing “What do Hindus Believe?”Seconds later I have 160 more words. Realize that one of my characters is a Cat Stevens fan, and paste the lyrics to “TheWind,” “I Wish, I Wish” and “How Can I Tell You?” into my story journal (now part of my word count). I go to The Wayward Coffeehouse in Seattle, where I write like crazy with a bunch of otherWrimos.

Day 30: Teaching day. Have not slept since yesterday. Phone meeting with publicist in the morning. Get son from clarinet lesson. Grade stuff. Converse with a student about leprechauns. Teach in an even more crazed fashion than usual. Go home. I have seven hours to finish this book. 7775 words to go. Hunky guy in book writes a very nice song. Characters sneak into the Lan SuChinese Garden. By 11:15 PM, I have 47k… There is NO WAY I will write 3,000 words in 45 minutes! I wrack my brains. And this is where the real cheating begins: My “secret blog” contains words. And my protagonist and I muse about similar things… I paste in two blog posts. Not enough. I write more on the Lan Su scene. Still not enough. It is 11:52. Didn’t I start another book with that one character who’s in this book? I paste in the opening of that book And…I WIN!!!!!

So, now Ihave learned my lesson: It doesn’t matterwhether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game? No. It matters that you win.

1) In 30 days, I have written approximately 150 manuscript pages. I have a full outline and 19 characters. If pressed, I could probably write a synopsis tomorrow. (Note to Leah—please don’t press. The one I send later will be better.)

2) This manuscript contains huge gaps,but the writing is actually pretty good—maybe even better than writing I’d deliberated over.

3) When there’s no time to figure out all the whys and whens, write “the heart of the scene.” Like the heart of the TARDIS, that’s where all the power is, anyway.

4) DIALOGUE is the backbone of a novel.

5) Get a little help from your friends:When I was ready to give up, my friends were there with cheers and challenges.And, I got great tips from the Nanowrimoforums, which I’d never thought I had time for.

6) Even though I am a NaNoWriMoRebel I still feel giddy with success. Hitting that 50k, even with “illegal”content, gives me the confidence that I need to turn a viable book into a publishable book.

Katherine

What I Learned by "Winning" NaNoWriMo Through Cheating and Trickery

2 thoughts on “What I Learned by "Winning" NaNoWriMo Through Cheating and Trickery

  • December 3, 2011 at 1:02 am
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    The tickets should be arriving any day! Thanks for mentioning my picture book. 🙂 Peace. Sounds like you had a good month. There is a dash of trickery in just about everything.

    Reply
  • December 3, 2011 at 8:59 am
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    Thank you so much, Molly!! Your challenge really turned me around. I truly was about to give up. When I look up "good friend" in the dictionary, there's a picture of you.

    Reply

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