Every year during the month of November, writers all over the globe attempt a colossal feat: to write a novel in one month. That’s 1,667 words a day to total 50,000 by the end of the month. Although most novels nowadays are 100,000 words, 50,000 is about the size of The Great Gatsby. It’s not a small amount. And well, I failed.
I started the beginning of the month with a lot of momentum. I had a title, the first four pages, two main characters, and a general plot. I’d been reminiscing about this book, its setting, its tone and themes for over a year.
But within the first few days of November, I realized something—I’d never done this before.
Oh sure, I’d written books before. I wrote my poetry book The Day My Kisses Tasted Like Disorder over the course of nine months. But that was only 7,000 words and it used to be my diary. I didn’t write it just to write—I wrote it because I had no other choice. I had to document my emotions during a turbulent time in my life. After my poetry book, I spent the last two NaNoWriMos writing my first novel: all these things i never said. Right now, it’s sitting in my Word documents at about 100,000 words. That’s over two years of hard work. But that book was based on my life. The majority of the characters and events actually happened. And the imaginary parts were born from a fantasy world I had already created in my head.
This month I had to write a novel from scratch—one where I crafted the characters, drafted the plot, and designed the world. It was all novel to me; pun intended. To counter my inexperience, I started taking Russell Nohelty’s Write a Great Novel master class. That helped a lot: I created trait charts for each character, wrote a detailed plot outline, and continued to perfect the setting. But it wasn’t enough. For each character, I felt the need to immerse myself into their worlds—and there were many of them, all different.
The goal of American Trespass is to weave together many immigrants’ stories. The main character’s mother escapes Mexican gang violence by crossing the southern border, an Eastern European man leaves communism behind, a young woman flees the Vietnam war, another fights for her life during the Cambodian genocide, a grandma of many comes from Togo. They’re all different, and they’re all significant. And I wanted their tales to be authentic. Thus, in November, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of this colossal task—to give justice to their stories. To give justice to those events and times in history. I needed to surround myself with the history, music, and mood of all of these places. I needed to do research. And one month wasn’t enough time.
I ran out of writing steam as the writing momentum I previously felt spilled over to other areas of my life. I started dating again, I continued to enjoy Paris with my friends, I went to a BANKS concert, got a few debilitating infections, and then went to London. Quite appropriately, I finished National Novel Writing Month in the city of two of my favorite authors—Charles Dickens and George Orwell. I walked by the Globe theater, visited Charles Dickens’s home, Sherlock Holmes’s famous fictional address, and drank a cider at George Orwell’s old stomping ground.
Me drinking a cider at the Fitzroy Tavern--a place George Orwell used to frequent in London.
As I walked in the footsteps of some of the Western world’s greatest writers, I wanted to be inspired. But I wasn’t. I needed a break. I needed to refocus. But I also needed to stop beating myself up about failing NaNoWriMo. It’s not like I hadn’t done this before—I have written books. Two. My current project is my third writing endeavor; and yeah, I didn’t finish it in one month. I wasn’t expecting too. But I failed a lot more than I originally wanted to. And that’s okay.
Because at the end of the day, I'm writing for myself and that's all that matters.
I look forward to finding some calmness in the coming winter months and clacking away at my keyboard as I continue to do one of the things I love the most—write.
What are you all looking forward to this holiday season?