Trust The Magic – NaNoWriMo Success!

December 23, 2020

Dana Collette has warm memories of her pre-school days when she would sit in a cozy attic at the feet of a neighbourhood grandma, modeling the woman’s letter writing. Although Dana had not yet learned how to write, she remembers the passion of putting pen to paper — a passion that, many years later, would blossom into a successfully completed novel during the NaNoWriMo challenge.

What Is NaNoWriMo?

“National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand new novel. They enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists.

We believe the practice of creative writing can deepen and expand a person’s empathy and community. We believe this power should be shared by and made accessible to people of all ethnicities, genders, cultures, belief systems, class backgrounds, ages, abilities, and sexual orientations. NaNoWriMo’s staff and volunteers know that we have work to do to fully embody these beliefs, and are ready to pursue that work over the coming years with resources and humility.” 

When Dana first heard of the contest in 2017, she looked into it but never signed up. She recently retired from a cherished capstone career as a business law professor, following a wide variety of positions related to business and law.

After a lifetime of journaling and years of writing for business, law and academia, she is turning her craft to creative writing. She shared that she reads mostly non-fiction, “which is true on average over the years. I’ve also enjoyed fiction all my life. Lately, I’m drawn to a variety of plot-driven commercial fiction with well-developed characters and enjoyable or interesting environments.”

Dana is an avid borrower from her local VIRL Parksville Branch, lately borrowing everything she could about creative writing, voraciously poring through each title for helpful tips.

Her novel had been swirling around in her brain for quite some time, so when she fortuitously ran into Vanessa Grant, a friend and the in-house writer for VIRL’s NaNoWriMo Facebook Group, Dana decided to take the plunge! At Vanessa’s urging, she signed up for the challenge. She went quickly to work following the pre-preparation guidelines from NaNoWriMo, using the Scrivener app, she built the scaffolding for her novel, fleshed-out key characters, and had an outline ready to go on November first.

What Dana didn’t expect was how NERVOUS she was the night before she began. She compared it to “big exam jitters”. Overcoming the initial anxiety, she quickly settled into an efficient routine. Early morning meditation, a workout, and then glueing herself to her desk until her word-count goal was complete for the day. She worked on her novel Monday to Friday for all of November, writing on-task and recording her words just like she had ‘billable hours’ in her law experience. At the end of each writing day, she reflected upon her experiences for that session in a writing journal.

Prior to starting, her fear was that she would run out of ideas partway through the process. In fact, the ideas flowed well beyond her expectations. She said she appreciated that NaNoWriMo invited her to “just be in my head as a writer, to sit down and take the time to play every day”. She experienced some awe-inspiring moments within her creative space. “One day I was building a scene, just describing what everything looked like and a new character just walked down the stairs into the room! I was like, OK…now what do we do with you?”

Another magical instance was when she was writing about a character reading “and suddenly she was reading something I hadn’t seen yet, it was incredible!” In fact, Dana’s toughest battle was quieting her analytical voice. With all of the technical writing she has done, it was difficult not to stop and edit or correct. She basically had to promise her self-editor that she would eventually have her turn! Focusing on quantity, not quality invited the creative flow that allowed for those magical moments to appear!

Dana completed her entire 50,000-word novel in the time allotted and when she entered her last word count into the NaNoWriMo website, she was thrilled and candidly admitted that it was somewhat anti-climactic. After the intensity of her process, a simple pop up badge on the screen felt lacking. She laughed, “I don’t hold it against NaNoWriMo, but I was glad I’d kept my writing journal.” Dana took to her Facebook page to announce her big win, sharing excerpts of her writing journey with excited friends.

She encourages all aspiring novelists to attempt the challenge and suggests that the preparation beforehand is a key factor, as well as having a dedicated amount of time each day to focus and dedicate to the task. Allowing for your creative side to flourish and grow is also key.

According to Dana, at some point, you just have to “trust the magic!”

Here are some of Dana’s favourite writing inspiration titles: