National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it has come to be known, is an annual creative writing event that has taken the literary world by storm for over the last two decades. Originating in 1999, NaNoWriMo established itself as a nonprofit organization that promotes imagination, encouraging writers to complete a 50,000 word manuscript of a novel by the end of the month of November. The idea is to get potential writers to get their ideas down, focusing initially on quantity, so that they have a draft they can then edit at their own pace, leaving them with a fully formed novel.
The challenge has produced many best-selling novels, including “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern, “With the Fire on High” by Elizabeth Acevedo, and “Water for Elephants,” by Sara Gruen, all of which were originally drafted as NaNoWriMo projects.
Over the course of November 2021, West Chester University Alum and former Editor-in-Chief of the Quad, Brendan Lordan, decided he would accept the NaNoWriMo challenge and push his creativity and writing stamina to new levels in order to begin a novel of his very own. The following is an interview which was done with Lordan regarding his experience.
Question One: What was the process like in deciding you wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo 2021?
Lordan: I had heard about NaNoWriMo in middle and high school; I might have attempted it once, but didn’t get very far if I did. This past summer, I had a dream that gave me an idea for a story and I just happened to be moving cities on Nov. 5, giving me a nice block of time to just write and get settled in. I had always wanted to try writing something longer form and I was really attracted to the hard limits of NaNoWriMo. I tend to get bogged down in editing and having those specific word counts to hit every day and knowing that, whatever happened, it was pencils down at midnight on Nov. 30, really kept me moving.
Question Two: After deciding that the month-long NaNoWriMo challenge was something you wanted to do, what did you initially do to prepare, and what ideas did you draw upon in order to create your story?
Lordan: The story started as a dream I had about ghosts being evicted as part of a housing project. Over the summer, I worked as a delivery driver while I applied for more sustainable jobs; I spent a lot of time thinking about the idea while driving around my hometown, even before I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. The story started developing around a few characters and places informed by things I’d experienced/done a lot of research on. A lot of elements from the fictional town in which the story ended up taking place were taken from my time at West Chester. The other half, I think I just stole from Good Omens, a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman that I fell deeply in love with over the summer.
Question Three: What did the actual month look like for you? How did you carve out the time you needed to hit your word goal? Was there a stretch of time where things were easier or more difficult?
Lordan: I thought I had so many ideas that the actual writing process was going to be a breeze, but once I started, I realized that I had vastly overestimated how much I had planned out in my head. I had a few ideas and characters that I loved and no real story to hang them on. Plus, I began to realize that the time I could use for writing was actually a very small subsection of what I previously considered “free time,” and that focus and creativity demanded an aggravatingly specific environment. I moved to a new city on Nov. 5 and got stuck without my ADHD and depression medication for the next 8 or 9 days, which pretty much wrote those off entirely as working days. What started as a measured pace of around 1,700 words a day quickly became intermittent binges of several thousand words, followed by stretches of nothing. Between the 4th and the 12th, I wrote nothing, which inevitably led to a massive 10-hour marathon on the 30th, yielding 13,600 words.
Question Four: Looking back now, a few months after you have successfully completed the challenge, what would you have done the same and what would you have done differently if you could?
Lordan: Looking back, I think it was silly of me to think that a big move was the best time to start such an intense creative undertaking. Writing isn’t just about having time; it demands a lot of consistency from the writer as they serve as a tour guide for the universe they’re bringing you into. On the surface, I had arguably too much time on my hands in November, but when you spend all of that time with your feet off the ground, it’s unfair to expect it to yield anything substantial or consistent.
Question Five: What are your plans now with the writing you have completed?
Lordan: Even though I managed to crawl across that 50,000 word finish line, I still only have about ⅔ of a coherent novel. Life came flooding back in pretty quickly after November finished, but I do plan on coming back and finishing the book at some point. I find that I’m a little afraid to come back to my writing because it feels like the criteria will change as soon as I add anything; once I pop the seal on it, I can’t hide behind that excuse, “of course it’s bad — I wrote it in a month,” anymore.
Question Six: What would you say to writers who are excited to create a draft of their first novel and are thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo in the future?
Lordan: I would say that if you’re planning to come out with a draft that will stand alone as an exceptional piece of writing, it will be a very long 30 days for you. The core skill of NaNoWriMo is learning to switch off the part of your brain that wants to edit, that wants every sentence and idea to flow cohesively into the next. What I struggled to remember is that this is not how all of my favorite books were written. If you come out of the experience with a first draft for something that you want to come back to and build into a full, super polished novel, that’s lovely. But if you come out with a big, bulky mess that falls in on itself if you look at it the wrong way, you’re doing it just as well. They just have to be 50,000 words; they don’t have to be 50,000 good words.
Ali Kochik is a fourth-year English major with minors in Journalism and Women’s & Gender Studies. AK908461@wcupa.edu