Tuesday, November 26, 2013


by Sara N

In 2005, I was having lunch in a Chinese restaurant with a friend. At the end of the meal, I cracked open my fortune cookie to find hands-down the best fortune I have ever received:

I've stuck that fortune to every laptop I've used since then. It's filthy and covered in more Scotch tape than Harry Potter's glasses, but it's been my boon companion these nine years. It took almost a decade, but I finally did it. IWroANoNo.

Translation: I wrote a novel in November! Well, almost. I'm at 47,053 words as of last night, and barring a piano falling on my head or a big dog running off with my laptop, I'll breeze past 50,000 before Saturday.

I didn't actually think I'd do it. I'd planned to devote 30 minutes a day to writing and figured I'd get bored and quit after the first week. So how did I end up with 200 pages of text?

I'll tell you how: I've got a competitive streak, and I love numbers, graphs and charts. The National Novel Writing Month website played me. It played me good. It played me like ... well, you know.

Anyway, the website obsessively tracks your progress. You copy and paste your text, and it tells you how many words you've written, how many average words you write each day, how many words you'll need to write every remaining day to finish on time, and on what date you'll finish based on your current progress.

It's a statistics lover's dream. And for high-achieving Type A's like myself, it's the carrot and the stick. Keep writing! Get your 1,600 words for the day! Watch your progress line go up and up! Beat yesterday's total! Finish before the Nov. 30 deadline! What started as a lark became an all-consuming goal.

Sneaky, NaNoWriMo. Very sneaky.

I did it by reading no fiction in the month of November, by skimping on sleep, and by forcing myself to write every night before bed, whether I wanted to or not. (Admittedly, I also did it by having a self-sufficient husband, no children and a supportive local NaNo writer's group.) The advice I heard from everyone associated with NaNoWriMo was not to edit, but to keep moving forward. Never looking back was fantastic advice. I'm assuming that when I print this thing out and actually read it with a critical eye, I'll be aghast at the hacky dialogue and gaping plot holes and screamingly dull sections, to say nothing of the typos. But hey, it's easier to edit text than fix a blank page, right?

So coming no time soon to no publisher near you is my novel. But how cool to know that I had the discipline to sit down every night without fail and put words on the page. Even if no one but me ever sees it, I'm delighting in the fact that I've finally fulfilled that fortune cookie's long-ago promise.
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  1. Yay, Sara! Bask in the glow for no less than two weeks, and feed the cats Bumblebee tuna like Kathleen Turner/Joan Wilder did when she finished her novel at the start of "Romancing the Stone." Were you a sobbing mess when you passed 50,000 words? And did you have any paper products left in the house to blow your nose in?

    1. Claire, I JUST got to 50,000. No sobbing, but I did a really dorky fist pump and a very quiet "boom" (because Jason's asleep).

      Now I have to go look at all my typos ...