For my capstone class, our final assignment was to “write the paper you feel you need to write before you leave Calvin.” I knew immediately what I was going to do. Every single November is a month-long event called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. All writers participating need to write fifty thousand words of creative fiction within the month, which averages out to about 1,667 words a day. In the middle of the school year, this is a difficult prospect.
So, for my final assignment, I decided to write fifty thousand words of creative fiction. Not within the month of November — that would be too difficult — but a simple fifty thousand words.
It’s been a difficult task that has taught me quite a few things about writing this semester. The paper is due in slightly over a week and I’m not quite done, but I don’t regret taking it on.
One, finding an idea to write about is actually really, really difficult. No matter how many ideas I had, finding one that I could write at least fifty thousand words on was a difficulty. It needed characters and a plot that could drive it to the end of the assignment, and hopefully beyond – books are longer than fifty thousand words, after all, so I would need it to be longer if I wanted it to become something more. It also needed to be interesting enough that I would still want to write it. Having a lengthy plot wouldn’t help if I didn’t have the motivation or the interest to write it.
The second thing I found out was that the writing bug never strikes when you want it to. I would be driving an hour back to my home in Kalamazoo, and suddenly get an idea for what I want to happen in, say, chapter five. I would desperately try to cling to it and remember it, to not lose that train of thought, but by the time I got home, it would inevitably be gone. (No, I still don’t remember what I wanted to do in chapter five, and it haunts me to this day.)
Or I would find myself lying awake at 1 a.m., suddenly struck with the urge to write, but needing sleep. With class the next day, and a sleeping roommate in the bed over, it was absolute torment.
The worst, though, was when I sat down to write and I gave myself copious amounts of time but … nothing. I would have an hour to write and I would scarcely churn out a handful of words. When I had tens of thousands of words to write, that was awful. I couldn’t write when I had the muse for it, and when I had time to write, I didn’t have the muse.
Fortunately, the third thing I learned while undertaking this progress was a way to force the words out of me. I plugged in a pair of earbuds and went at it. It was that simple. The music blocked out everything going on around me, and I desperately tried to finish certain sections before the playlist ended. I would reach the end of this page by the end of this song, the end of this chapter by the end of this playlist, finish this thousand words after seven songs, etc.
The most valuable thing I learned during this assignment, though? That every single writer out there deserves so much credit and kudos for being able to write that much and get it out there.
National Novel Writing Month ended this week, and my assignment only has roughly a week more until I’m done as well. This was one of the most challenging writing assignments I’ve undertaken. If you even attempted to write fifty thousand words, and especially if you finished it, so many kudos to you.
If you didn’t try? Give it a shot next year.