NaNoWriMo Update #4: I actually wrote a novel!


30 days later and I finished! I have written a novel … and so can you.

In the month of November, I wrote 51,402 words, which turns out to be the length of a short novel. Or at least, a rough draft of one. And that, alone, is definitely something to celebrate!

And yet, the whole experience has a bit of an odd filter to it. As much as people congratulate me and as impressed as they are, I can’t help but feel a bit like a fraud. The truth is, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. And maybe that’s the point.

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I set out on this adventure in order to prove to myself that there wasn’t anything that was “too difficult” for me to achieve. I had fantasized about writing a book, but the task of doing it always felt too big to accomplish.

Don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking on this project.

Yet here I am, comfortably on the other side, and I realize, it wasn’t ever as big a deal as I had built it up to be in my head. I had the capability to do this all along. It hadn’t been some crazy, far away, if-only dream. I simply needed to sit and put words on paper.

And you can do that too. I am serious. I know it’s easy for me to say after finishing, but if I can do this, really anyone can. If you get nothing else from this, please hear me say: Don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking on this project.

Finishing a novel’s worth of writing is a slightly indescribable feeling, but I’ll do my best. Here are a few of the more productive revelations I had once I crossed that 50,000 word finish line.

We all know how to tell stories

The ending of the book terrified me. I was convinced I would run out of good ideas and end up with a half-finished pile of words that would sit on my desktop, haunting me every time I opened a new word doc.

Then, something truly remarkable happened: the story came together. I had a plot and a climax and a resolution and I didn’t even feel like I had to try all that hard to get there.

The secret to this is simple: we all know how to tell a story. We have all read books or watched movies or binged an entire television series. Even if we’ve never attempted to put anything down on paper ourselves, we all have an internal, subconscious narrator, working to put the pieces in a recognizable order for us.

You just have to push forward. Jump to the next conversation you want to write, or put your characters in a strange new situation and trust that they are skilled enough to get themselves back on track. The story will come.

It’s not really a book yet

Looking at my 85-page word document, I can’t seem to turn off the alarm bells blasting: ‘It’s not a book yet, It’s not a book yet’. And they’re right. But that isn’t a bad thing.

The point of this month was to show myself that I could, in fact, write enough words to create a book, not to write enough coherent and perfectly chosen words to create something that could be published. I mean, I haven’t even gone through to spell check the thing, let alone figure out if I accidentally renamed any characters halfway through.

The very first thing that people will ask when you tell them that you wrote a novel is … “When can I read it?!?” And if you are anything like me, that sends a wave of anxiety rolling through your stomach.

It is completely okay for the answer to that question to be “NEVER!!!” This is your novel and you don’t owe anything to anyone. Also, simply making it presentable to others would probably take another chunk of time that maybe you aren’t ready to commit to right now.

But what do I do with it?

When the whole point was to write it to prove that I could, this can be a tricky question. I mean, I don’t want to throw it away (in fact, I have now saved it in several places to ensure that it never accidentally gets deleted), but is it a waste to have it sit in a folder, never to be heard from again?

No, definitely not. For me, I think I just need some time and distance before I can decide exactly what to do with it.

So I’ve put it away, for now. Maybe in a few months, when I’ve managed to get these characters’ voices out of my head, I’ll try rereading it with fresh eyes. It will always be there, whenever I am ready. What’s the rush?

You CAN write, you don’t have to keep proving it

The finish line is a perfectly acceptable place for a long-overdue nap.

As I wrote the last 10,000 words or so, all I could think about was how great my next book was going to be. I felt like I couldn’t finish what I was working on fast enough, simply so I could jump into the next one.

But then, when I saw that I had made it to the end, I never wanted to look at a keyboard again. The fact that this is coming out in the middle of December is a pretty clear indication of how desperately I just didn’t want to write anymore.

I think the trick is not to pressure yourself. It’s 100% okay to not jump into another project right away. You’ve done a big thing, and when you are ready, you know you can do it again. The finish line is a perfectly acceptable place for a long-overdue nap.

Be proud, you finished!

Most importantly, don’t talk yourself out of being proud. People will be impressed, and if you are anything like me, you will roll your eyes and say “It’s really not that big of a deal.” But it is!

The point of NaNoWriMo, in its most pure form, is to prove that everyone has a novel in them, and this November, I managed to get mine out on paper. No matter what happens next, I now know that I CAN write a novel. It is not some impossible dream, but an actual item checked off the bucket list.

And that knowledge — that when I set my mind to something, no matter how difficult or ambitious or impossible the goal seems, I can achieve it — might be the most unexpected gift to come out of this wild year.

Don’t feel like you need to wait for next November. If you want to write a book, you can. All you have to do is sit down and start.

30 days later, you might just have a novel.

Chelsea still can't believe that she lives in NYC and works to make movies happen. You can find her checking out way too many books from the library or getting lost in an audio book on a long walk.

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