AKA: How a crazy writing challenge pulled me from the pit of despair and saved my career
It was 2010 when I first came across the word Nanowrimo, quite by chance, on Twitter. I remember clicking onto the website and feeling the fizz of excitement as I absorbed the rules of the challenge. Fifty thousand words in thirty days? I can definitely do that, I thought to myself with the kind of cocky energy usually only found in puppies and budding writers.
I had never written anything longer than an academic essay but I knew that I really wanted to write a book. Sure, hadn’t my fifth year english teacher raved about that one story I wrote before? It was the perfect time, I was working as a nanny during the day so I had my evenings at home to myself while my boyfriend sat killing enemy teams on call of duty.
By the end of that long and dreary November, I learned that writing an excellent leaving cert essay did not prepare anyone for the task of sustaining a novel through two hundred pages. Sure, I had completed my goal of reaching the finish line but the story itself was more of a painful amalgamation of cliches and rambling descriptions of the countryside. I don’t think I wrote another word for at least a year afterwards but the experience was one I will always credit to having gotten me on the path to finding my own voice.
All of a sudden I wasn’t just alone in my living room, typing out my crazy stories. Suddenly I was part of a community. All over the world there were other writers, from all genres and levels of career, each of us united in our battle to get words down onto the page.
I completed the challenge again a year later, wrote the first five thousand words and promptly gave up. I knew what was ahead of me this time. But I had realized something valuable, I wanted to write romance. It was through the amazing romance community in the forums and on twitter that I began to gain insight into the expectations of my chosen genre and how to fine tune my voice into something that wouldn’t burn an editors eyeballs upon reading.
A manuscript that began as a Nanowrimo idea would go on to win a global writing contest in 2014, garnering me a two book publishing contract with Harlequin, the biggest romance publisher in the world. I am now about to publish my fifth book and my work has been translated and sold in twenty countries.
Nanowrimo truly was my gateway to becoming a published writer and much more recently it became my unexpected saviour.
After I had my third child a couple years back, I hit a major writing block. My working output was a standstill,I was out of contract and frozen with uncertainty about my future as an author. I was at home with three kids under five, juggling school runs and home-life while also trudging along with a new story idea that I just couldn’t connect with.
Pretty soon my mental health was suffering and it seemed the more I panicked over not being able to finish my manuscript, the more blocked and hopeless I became. At one point I tearfully discussed quitting writing altogether with my husband.
I wasn’t even thinking of completing Nanowrimo 2019, but when I spied the emails landing in my inbox in late October, eventually I asked myself…why not?
The idea of abandoning a project that gave me no joy in favour of something brand new was appealing, but not one I took to lightly. I had written thirty thousand terrible words of that cursed book and it took everything within me to walk away and open up that new file. I felt like I was admitting defeat, somehow.
I think I wrote two hundred words on the first day, a far cry from the daily benchmark of 1667 in my handy Nanowrimo progress chart. But it was a start. I began to spend my evenings plotting furiously and my mornings typing in the car as the baby napped in the back seat. Within a week I was hitting the benchmark and my story was sprouting wings of its own. My beloved muse had returned with what felt like a wild hurricane of inspiration. I wrote during mealtimes, I wrote well into the night while everyone slept…all of a sudden I couldn’t stop!
After eighteen months of frustration and despair, I had somehow found my passion again. By the time November 30th rolled around, I had completed my novel. Two weeks later, I signed the contract for what would go on to become my fifth book, The Vows He Must Keep.
Now, before you start grumbling about fast writers and quality, let me assure you that this wasn’t some kind of mystical entity that arrived perfectly formed onto my computer screen.
There was obviously the usual level of rewriting and revising and polishing that all of my books get. The real magic was that I was back writing everyday. I was unblocked and doing what I loved again.
No matter where you are in your writing journey, I think Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to tap into the collective creative pulse of the writing world. Make new connections, cheer one another on and allow yourself to write with wild abandon! Challenge yourself to push past your boundaries and see what you’re capable of.
And if you are struggling right now, as I know many of us are, know that it is ok to step away from a project that isn’t working. It can be painful to let go, but trust me, forcing yourself through the tundra of a manuscript that is truly dead in the water will do nothing but leave you exhausted and kill your creativity.
I implore you to stop. Rest. Recharge your sensitive artist soul and let it catch its breath. For some, that may mean completely stopping for a while and taking time away from all writing. But for others like me, stasis can mean the complete death of a project. I’ve learned that I need to maintain momentum in order to produce my best work.
No matter what kind of writer you believe yourself to be, I think everyone should challenge themselves to nanowrimo at least once. Consider it a crash course in drafting something new. An injection of pure creative energy to what would otherwise be another dull and dreary November.
Will you be joining me?
(c) Amanda Cinelli
About The Vows He Must Keep:
A pledge to protect…
That will be tested at the altar!
After tragedy strikes, Daniela Avelar steps up as CEO to her brother’s global yacht empire. But to prevent corporate mutiny, she needs the help of his business partner Valerio Marchesi.
Little does Daniela know that Valerio has already sworn to keep her safe. And when the tycoon discovers she’s in grave danger, he insists she becomes his bride! He’ll risk the unavoidable chemistry that sparks every time they lock eyes. Because this engagement of convenience is anything but… It’s a red-hot fire burning out of control!
Order your copy online here.