window sill, Italy

NaNoWriMo Reflections

Way back in high school, I used to hike mountains. The first time I did a real hike, after countless hours of exercising, it took us the total of twelve hours to get to the top. That was one of the easiest mountains in Indonesia. The longest hike I did was two days, with a break in a tent overnight.

For all these hikes, the experience was always the same. The top was so overwhelmingly far that it seemed impossible that we shall reach it.

Many times during my NaNoWriMo month, I was reminded of hiking a mountain. The top seemed so far that the only thing I could do was taking one step at a time, writing one word at a time.

And as surely as hiking a mountain, every step gets you closer to the top. Every word gets you closer to the book you always mean to write.

hiking mountain

We tend to see writing as a creative project, but in this month of experience, I was possibly most surprised by the physicality of it. Just like physical exercise, just like hiking a mountain, it is about making your body move, whether your mind wants to or not. It is about sitting in front of the computer, whether you are inspired or not, and writing nonetheless.

The result too, is as visible as any physical activities. You develop writing muscle, you produce words, you get somewhere.

I absolutely encourage any of you who might be secretly wishing to write a book, to join NaNoWriMo. I have known NaNo for five years now, and every single year I’ve been thinking to join, but only this year I finally had the courage to do it. I did not have a novel on 30th of October, and today over 30 days later, I have one with over 55,000 words.

It’s a whirlwind of a month, and I did little else apart from writing, broken only by watching the Tudors series (completely unrelated to the book). I freed up my weekend and I caught up a lot of the word count on the weekend. I stopped blogging, I stopped reading, I stopped doing my online courses, I stopped doing any other side projects. Every minute of my waking moments I was thinking about the book, and what I would be writing the next time I sit down for a writing session. In a way it was liberating, because I’m one of those people who always feel I have too many things to do, so every time I have a spare moment, I have to think how best to use my time. For the past few weeks, I did not have to think. Spare moments? Write, write, write!

My tips for those who think about joining next year:

– Have a general idea about your novel

I didn’t have an outline, as I found it easier to just have a general idea of where I wanted to go, but I had a very strong opening scene in my head (I only got a strong ending scene in my head after a week or two).

– Try to keep up with the word count

NaNoWriMo goal is 50K words, which means you need to write 1,667 words per day. I try to stick to this, especially in the first week. In the subsequent weeks, I did not care so much about reach the daily word count on weekdays, as long as I wrote that day, even for just a little, and as long as I knew I could catch up that weekend. In short, I keep up with the word count on a weekly basis. The stats tool on the website is excellent, which you can use to update your daily word count, so you can see how you are progressing.

– Make use of the community energy

This year over 300K people joined NaNo (though only 40K+ finishing, about 13% – makes me a bit proud to be one of them), and you can really make use of the energy to help you to reach your goal. I personally used twitter, and watched #NaNoWriMo tag, and occasionally just random read people’s twits whenever I felt like it. Knowing a lot of people are in the same struggle as you makes you not want to give up. “We’re in this together. Let’s do it!”

– Inspired by those who have made it
When you sign up, you’d be sent email every couple of days, of prep talks and general cheerleading letters. I found the prep talks from authors to be the most inspiring. I also read No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty – the founder of NaNoWriMo, which is a very fun book to read and give you lots of tips for finishing Nano. There would be so many ways for people to cheerlead your venture in November, that really, things are in your favour to write. The universe wants you to write. The world needs your novel.

window sill, Italy

What happens next?

Though I have pretty much a complete book, I know that it will need months and months of editing before it is ready for someone else’s eyes. But now that I have everything written down, I can start to really work on it and give it shape. I now have clearer sense about what I want to edit the hell out of this novel, what it is about, what I want to say, what scenes and characters I need to add, and what I want to take away.

Two quotes from The Anatomy of Story by John Truby that I found to be most profound:

“Step 1: Write Something That May Change Your Life
This is a very high standard, but it may be the most valuable piece of advice you’ll ever get as a writer. I’ve never seen a writer go wrong following it. Why? Because if a story is that important to you, it may be that important to a lot of people in the audience. And when you’re done writing the story, no matter what else happens, you’ve changed your life.”

“Everyone can tell a story. We do it every day. We see, hear, read, and tell thousands of stories in our lives.
The problem comes in telling a great story. If you want to become a master storyteller, and maybe even get paid to be one, you run up against tremendous obstacles. For one thing, showing the how and why of human life is a monumental job. You have to have a deep and precise understanding of the biggest, most complex subject there is. And then you have to be able to translate your understanding into a story.”

How I love those quotes!

Indeed I don’t know what’s going to happen to this book, whether it will ever get to be published, but deep down I know I want it to. It’s an incredibly important story for me, and I believe the point of view of the book has not been written anywhere else so far. Prerogative to first book writer, much of the story is semi-biographical, but I’m determined to make it one that could stand alone as a proper novel.

I am also a curious person by nature. I have huge interest in knowing how the cogs of the world works, why things happen the way they do. Writing the book is my way of translating that into a cohesive story. It is my way to say “So this is how I think about why things happen. This is how I make sense of the events that have transpired.”

Just yesterday, one of my online lecturer said the following in his closing letter:

“Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.”

There could not be a better way to put the reason I write into words. Just like the character in the book, my journey begun in Indonesia, when I thought that the way people live their lives was the only way, when I could only see towards a single possible future, the time when I lived in a big city with a small future and saw nothing but dust.

Until one day! (in Hollywood trailer voice)

So I have just written 1,488 words. Not yet the standard daily word count, but generally too long for a blog post. I shall close with some stats that I came up with in the time of November writing:

Influential Online Courses:
Future of Storytelling Course – by iversity.org
A Brief History of Humankind – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, coursera.org
Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction – University of Virginia, coursera.org

Books (partly) read during:
No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

TV series watched as a reward in between writing sessions:
All seasons of The Tudors

I listened to mostly Indonesian songs at the time of writing, but this one played the biggest role as one day I listened to it from morning til night – including at work, possibly about 75 times, while thinking about, imagining, resolving, and writing the last scene:

Favourite writing spot:
Costa Coffee at Great Marlborough St, Oxford Circus

One secondhand MacBook Air 11″ was bought. My MacBook Retina Pro 13″ is fine and was not hurt in the process of writing.

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mee
The Traveling Reader
I left home when I was 17 and never stop exploring the world since. Most days I'm a digital technician at one of the London's biggest visual effects studio. My alternate persona writes and travels and dreams of doing these as a living. I alternately call myself Indonesian or Australian whichever is more beneficial at the time, and I've been a Londoner since 2011.