My NaNoWriMo 2002 Diary

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The NaNoWriMo Mission: Write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30.

How are you spending your November? I'm planning to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. You may be right, I may be crazy, but thousands of other writers are going to be crazy right along with me, thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNoWriMo is a form of group writing torture that is far more intense than anything I've ever even heard of before (and I thought my senior year of college was HELL). The official website ( describes it thusly:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over talent and craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

(For more details about NaNoWriMo, please visit I'm much too busy to answer e-mails about it and all of my information comes from the official site anyway!)

So, the math works out to:

50,000 words

 = 1,667 words per day
30 days

The whole thing is really quite insane, but it's also completely brilliant. There is no cash award. The novels aren't judged or evaluated by anyone. Publishers are not standing by to offer anyone a book deal. You send it in electronically and a machine counts the words. If you wrote 50,000 words or more, you're listed on the NaNoWriMo site as a winner.

You do it to be able to say that you've done it and to prove that you can. You do it for the sheer exhilaration of writing at a lunatic pace and leaving your internal editor behind. You do it because writing a crappy novel in a month means that you can probably write a really good one in a year or two.

This section of my website will detail the trials and tribulations of the novel-in-a-month process. Check back often to see how it's going.

Sun., Oct. 20, 2002

After several days of talking about it, I officially signed up with NaNoWriMo today. I'm excited and terrified.

There are so many things to do before the writing frenzy begins. I have two completely different stories on my mind right now and I need to decide which one to pursue. Once I decide which story I'm writing, I need to sketch out the basic character details and plot outline. Having a clue about who my characters are and what journey I want them to take will make it easier for me to keep my writing momentum instead of just staring at a blank screen.

There are also mundane tasks to do before the writing frenzy begins. I've read that getting your life and household in order before Nov. 1 can make the NaNoWriMo process slightly more bearable. Now is the time to clean the house, get a haircut, clear off the desk, etc. I wish I had thought of this before mid-October so that I would have more time to get ready, but I'm going for it anyway. My boyfriend Joe has graciously offered his extra help around the house to make this easier. I'll be taking him up on that, but I also want to do some prep work so that everything doesn't fall on his shoulders.

The Seattle chapter is having a kickoff party on Sunday, Oct. 27. I'm planning to go and meet some of the other lunatics who are doing this. I can get tips and advice from them on the NaNoWriMo forums, but it will be nice to have faces to go with some of the names.

Mon., Oct. 21, 2002

As we count down to the official start of NaNoWriMo, I'm doing what I can to get ready. Joe and I made a list of all the things that need to get done before Nov. 1. It's a huge list, but having it written down helps me feel more in control of it.

One thing we're trying to do is borrow a laptop for me to write this novel on. My desktop computer is in the living room, along with Joe's desktop computer and all the usual living room stuff. That's a very public place for writing, especially with an intense deadline like this. I have a bad feeling about that. My massive desk and desktop computer won't fit in the bedroom, but we could easily make room for a laptop. I've called one friend to see if he has a laptop I could borrow just for a month, but he can't spare one.

I'll probably try sending a group mail to my friends to see if any of them can lend me one for a month. It's a long shot, but it's worth a try. I don't want to buy a laptop just for this one month project, it seems frivolous.

Tues., Oct. 22, 2002

My portability problem has been solved! A friend from work suggested adding a folding keyboard to my Palm Pilot. I was worried about whether the Palm could handle the file size of a novel and I wasn't sure about compatible software. Fortunately, the NaNoWriMo forums had great suggestions from other writers who have written novels on PDAs. A quick trip to an electronics store, an even quicker software download, and I can now write my novel anywhere I want!

Guess I'd better devote more time to the plot and character development now . . .

Wed., Oct. 23, 2002

Hmmm. Didn't actually work on plot or character development today. I did work towards getting ready for Nov. 1, though. Joe and I ran errands tonight to try to get our lives more organized before the insanity begins.

I also played with some fun technology today. I test-drove several word processing applications for the Palm Pilot. My current favorite configuration is: Palm m125 with a portable folding keyboard, running WordSmith, a very complete and flexible word processing application by Blue Nomad. WordSmith plays quite nicely with Microsoft Word documents. I can create and edit new .doc files on my Palm, and edit Word documents imported from my desktop computer.

I only have two complaints about the WordSmith program:

  1. Instead of assuming that the version of the document with the most recent date is the most current, the program always assumes the Palm version is more recent than the desktop version. Changes made in the desktop version are not integrated into the Palm version when I synchronize, the process only goes one way. It's very annoying. [10/26: I found a work-around for this. If I open the document from the WordSmith menu in Microsoft Word before changing it, the changes synchronize properly.]

  2. WordSmith says that I can put documents on my Palm's expansion card to save memory, but it also says that the system can't back them up to the desktop if I do that. That just won't cut it for the big novel-writing project. I have to have a desktop backup.

The WordSmith program is a very strong word processor for the Palm, it's just got some strange quirks. The manual acknowledges this, but it doesn't really offer solutions. I think I'll try to work with it, though. Even with the quirks, it's better than the alternatives I've tried.

Sat., Oct. 26, 2002

Joe and I rearranged the bedroom to give me a private workspace today. I think it will be much easier to do my NanNoWriMo writing in the bedroom. My main computer is in the living room and that's just too busy and noisy for this project. I need to be able to close a door.

Sun., Oct. 27, 2002

I went to the Seattle NaNoWriMo kick-off party tonight. I almost didn't go, since I had so much to do, but I'm glad I did. It was fun to spend time with other people who are doing this same crazy thing.

I really enjoyed the chance to talk to fellow writers about my work and to listen to them describe their work. We were all so incredibly excited to be able to share with our own kind. Everyone was very animated and a bit hyper. We were like a band of ferrets or something.

Mon., Oct. 28, 2002

This morning I wrote down a bunch of the plot and character development that I've been forming in my head. Notes are going to be extremely helpful in a project like this. Everything is in a brainstorming style right now, but I'll mold it into an organized version tomorrow or Wednesday. I know perfectly well that the madness starts Friday, but it won't take me long to organize my notes. I'm great at that sort of thing.

Tues., Oct. 29, 2002

I typed up my plot and character notes today and it helped me feel better about things. When I put all my scribbles together in one file and organized them, they actually made sense. As a loose outline of plot and character, everything hangs together nicely. I'll round out my notes some more over the next couple of days. I feel ready to start writing on Friday.

I also registered my free trial version of WordSmith tonight. I didn't want to wait and risk technical difficulties later.

Thurs., Oct. 31, 2002

The madness starts tomorrow! I'm excited and a little nervous. I've done a lot to prepare and I'm as ready as I'm going to get. I have a basic plot and characters, my work area is all set up, most of my other miscellaneous projects have been taken care of, and the technology is tested and ready.

The characters in my novel are based on an online comic that Joe and I plan to do next year. (I wanted to do a very silly project.) The basic pitch: Toy Story meets Brady Bunch meets Jaws.

In this story, the world is exactly like the one we live in, except that action figures just happen to be alive. They are the perfect pet. They are only six inches tall. They don't eat, they don't drink, they don't poop. They just talk to you, hang out with you, and keep you company.

Once you've wrapped your mind around that, picture a girl who has two female action figures moving in with a guy who has two male action figures. There are a lot of changes, the house feels too crowded, a plastic version of sibling rivalry ensues.

Every good story needs a villain. In this one, it's a neighborhood cat. In a world where action figures are alive, household pets find them fun to chase and terrorize. The house that this family is living in has a kitty door from a previous tenant. The action figures have been using it to come and go, but a neighbor cat starts using it to come in and terrorize the action figures when the humans are away. The action figures can bar the door and hide, or they can put aside their differences and work together to scare the cat away.

I've had a lot of fun building the characters for this story. Writing about them is going to be a blast.

Before I go wrap up some final details for tomorrow, I want to share my two favorite quotes on writing with you:

"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public." -- Winston Churchill

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." -- Gene Fowler

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