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Tales of NaNo Past. 2006: The Year I Wrote Something Worth Keeping

Every so often I’m going to dip into my memory and regale you with stories of previous NaNos. As far as I can remember anyway…

By 2006 I had wracked up three successful NaNo’s and was about to embark on my fourth. Previous years involved writiing a teen angst story, a rip off of Underworld and a fantasy involving another world that I actually kinda liked but never got anywhere with it – it was competing with Lord of the Rings for pointless walking about.

I started 2006 with a title, rather than a plot. It was called ‘Phoenix Rising’ (to this day, I still love that title) and I’m not afraid to admit that I got the idea for the title after watching X-Men 3. Twice. (Can you believe I paid to see that sorry excuse for an X-Men movie twice?) For those of you who haven’t seen X-Men 3, the movie’s antagonist’s X-name was ‘Phoenix’. But I digress.

It’s rare for me to start with a title. Usually I started with an idea which floats around for a few weeks/months and then I’ll suddenly come up with a title. But that year, I started with the title. And I didn’t know what to do with it! I knew I wanted to use it but I obviously needed a story which would fit the title. I ended up taking the idea of ghosts and where ghosts come from and why some people see ghosts and others don’t and running with it. And boy did I run! I took that idea and before I knew where I was, I had an alternate world which nested comfortable on top of ours which was about to reach a climax in a years long battle that would affect the lives of everyone on Earth. I was hot! I had a prophecy and everything. And, more importantly, I fit the story around the title. You want somebody to rise out of the metaphorical ashes? Then, by hook or by crook, you are going to get somebody!

I seriously loved that novel. I had to rush the ending as I wanted to finish it by the end of November so the Big Battle was reduced to about two pages, if that, but I did reach the ending. That was the first novel I had written which meant anything to me. I loved the story, I loved my main character. I did start to tentatively edit it and even submitted the first chapter as part of my final creative writing portfolio in university. I still have full intentions to return to the story one day, even if it means re-writing it from scratch. It could be turned into a trilogy as well so I’m already thinking that when I’m done with my current trilogy, I’m dust off Phoenix Rising and get to work.

But why am I babbling about my first novel love? Because I want to make the point that you shouldn’t dive into NaNo expecting to walk out with the Next Biggest Thing. I walked into three NaNos and knew by the end those stories would never again see the light of day. And, with the exception of my teen angst novel which my friend giggled over a couple of years ago (with my permission), they haven’t. But you are practising. You are writing rubbish that you don’t care about and you are sucking at it. You are preparing for the Big Novel. The one that means something, the one which lights up your eyes and you fall in love with and want to cherish and care for it. The one that nestles into your heart and stays there, no matter what happens next. It might not be the greatest writing ever, but it’s a story you want to keep safe. Because one day you’ll be able to work with it the way it deserves (almost walked into another excuse to use the Dark Knight Quote then!) Not everything you write will deserve editing. It won’t. But they are paving the way for the stories that will be everything you want them to be. It’s why you should never stop writing.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t until another three NaNos had passed until I fell for another novel of mine and that’s the one I’m editing now. (It makes me worry if that’s the trend seeing as I’m writing the sequel this year!) I even had one novel that not only was utterly ridiculous but I also hated my MC and killed her off before the story was finished and had to bring in an entirely new character to be the MC until the novel was over. I am never touching that mess again! But that’s a story for another blog…

Tales of NaNo Past: 2003.

Tales of NaNo Past. 2003: The Year That Started It All

Every so often I’m going to dip into my memory and regale you with stories of previous NaNos. As far as I can remember anyway…

The story of how I came across NaNo and what that first year was like for me seems like a good place to start!

I was sat in class one day, doodling, dreaming, clock watching (as you do at 16) when all of a sudden, a UNICORN (no joke) came into the classroom. As everyone stared (and I thought I’d fallen asleep), it trotted up to me and bowed its head. There, on it’s horn, was a miniature golden halo. Inscribed on the halo were the immortal words: National Novel Writing Month.

No? Oh, fine…

Actually, a friend of mine told me she’d heard about this novel writing challenge online and as I wrote a lot, she thought I’d like to try it. (See? Doesn’t the above story sound much more exciting now?) I liked the idea, looked up the website, signed up and that was that! It was mid-October and I was totally into forums at the time so I loved it before it had even started. My username was ‘ShadowedWhispers’ and I was ready to go.

November begun. It was my only year of hand-writing the novel. We had a family PC at home but that meant I didn’t always have access to it if someone else was using it. So, I wrote a lot in my free periods at college (for any Americans reading, 6th form college is like the last two years of high school) and at night in my room. I actually, insanely, also typed up what I wrote when I did have access to a PC so I could have it officially validated! Back then I didn’t know about the Luddite Clause so essentially, by the end of November, I’d written twice as much!

I remember desperately wanting to prove to everyone, especially myself, that I could do it. My family didn’t get what I was doing, but my friends were supportive. November that year was a total roller coaster. I’d never written so much, so fast. It was exciting and scary and yeah, I’ll admit, my schoolwork took a bit of a hit that month. Luckily, I didn’t have any exams or major deadlines until December. (And I’m not recommending you put NaNoWriMo ahead of school, kids!)

I remember the thrill of validating my first NaNo novel. Picture the scene… It’s November 30th, I had just turned 17 (my birthday’s in November) and my curfew on the computer was when Mum went to bed, which was usually about 10:30/10:45pm. I still had a thousand or so words to go before I reached 50K when she came into the dining room and told me to get off the computer. I was horrified. I begged, actually BEGGED, to stay on it longer. I swear, I was this close to getting down on my knees. I’m not sure if she really understood my urgency but she reluctantly allowed me to stay on, with stern warnings telling me to be off before Dad went to bed. This was it. I was on it. My typing speed these days is about 80 words a minute, but back then, it was probably more like 40 or 50 words a minute. I typed. I just wrote, frantically. I was racing the clock. At 11:45pm, I struck 50,000 words and rushed to validate.

Now, any newer members of NaNo won’t remember the days when the website would crash under the numbers of members trying to validate before midnight on November 30th. My memories of those days are immensely fond (veterans know what I’m on about) but on that particular November 30th, I was in fear that I wouldn’t have my novel officially validated in time.

At 11:55pm, my novel validated. I had never been more happy.

I began a tradition that night. I saved my novel to a USB drive and wore it on a lanyard around my neck until I went to bed. It was my pride and joy. I remember trembling from the slight adrenaline rush I had got.

I had written a novel.

I wrote some typically teenage angsty stuff, which has become the source of several jokes between myself and my friend who read it afterwards; but even so, I had written a novel. I was on top of the world.

And I have never looked back. (Except for the purpose of this blog…)

What’s your first NaNoWriMo story?

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