Word Count and Coffee

The cold air of November comes more gradually in Busan than in my native Iowa. Back home, they’ve just had their first snow, but here we’ve got 60s and 70s on the forecast. But as the sun’s skyward trip shortens, the chill comes, and nothing fights it quite like a cup of coffee. In past Novembers my caffeine intake has increased substantially. Sure, the days are shorter and that adjustment makes me drag a little more than usual, but it’s also time for the increasingly popular National Novel Writing Month. In years past, I’d go to a café and order a hot drink and sit there in my hoodie writing as quickly as I could, letting the story tell itself. Of course, this a terrible method to write a quality novel, but an excellent way to gain experience and flush out any ideas that have nagged at your mind.

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I was very much opposed to it. Sure, it was a great way for someone who never imagined they would write a novel to find the motivation to do so, but it wasn’t something serious writers should do. It was a waste of a month. Why write a novel that is most likely (I’m talking 99.9%) going to be terrible? That time could be spent on serious projects. So, I thought, let the “amateurs” have their fun and write their novels and go on their forums and chat about it, but I’ll have none of it. Then, two years ago, a friend said we should participate together, so, reluctantly (but with a little bit of masked excitement) I gave it a shot.

When I was 21, I wrote a novel based so closely on my experiences in high school that it might as well have been considered nonfiction. I never finished and it was crap, but I always wanted to revisit the themes and story lines it presented. There was something there, I just hadn’t found it. Yet, I never wanted to spend a lot of time trying to write something that was still an unformed thought. That was when I realized that potential of NaNoWriMo. In just one month, I could complete a 50 thousand word draft that finally embodied those ideas that had haunted me for years. So there I sat, drinking coffee after coffee, busily typing whatever came to mind. By the end of the month, I hadn’t finished, but something remarkable happened. I had refined what I hoped to accomplish with this story by flushing out all the stray thoughts that didn’t belong.

The semi-finished novel I had written told me much more about what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to focus on my experiences. They was too personal and, to be honest, any character based off of me isn’t all the likable. I didn’t want to focus on teenagers being, well, teenagers. I didn’t want to write in first person. I didn’t want to write anything that sappily reveled in the value of friendship. No no, I wanted open up the guts of growing up in small town Iowa and expose the good and the bad in all its raw glory. So, a couple months later I began the novel I’ve worked on for the last two years now–my magnum opus, if you will–and all because I decided to take my friend up on the offer to participate in NaNoWriMo with her.

This year, sadly, I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo. My schedule just won’t allow it. I’d like to. In fact, I’ve got a couple ideas from stories past that I’d like to revisit, but sadly, that’s not an option for me this year. But if you’re one of those people that have been on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo or perhaps you’ve never heard of it, I’d highly recommend. It allows you to explore stories in which you’ve not really wanted to invest time, flush out and refine stories that you’ve not been able to get right, and it can even be a little bit of fun. Especially if one of your friends writes an explicit sex scene and gets drunk at a party and reads those scenes to everyone in attendance. See? NaNoWriMo has a little something for everyone to enjoy.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

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