NaNoWriMo, What Are You to Me?

2010: The year I was first told of you, at just about October’s start. The year I stepped out with no expectations, just a challenge I was itching to meet. 50,000 words, 30 days. A longer book than I normally wrote, but not too terribly intimidating, since I went in with a plan.

NaNo '10 Cover PicAn idea inspired by my home Ren Faire’s Robin Hood. The delightful discovery that my Merry Minstrel was descended of none other than Gant-o’-the-Lute. My main character and I getting to know each other at the same, adventuresome pace. A side character in scarlet, willing and eager from Day 1 to step up to the plate and deliver whatever I needed. A girl and her Thief Lord lurking foxlike in the forums.

My first NaNoWriMo, you were the one of new beginnings.

2011: The year I set you aside for psalm-making. A poem or song a day, working to heat up my sub-satisfactory spiritual life with my fiery passion for words. A more solitary endeavor, followed by a December of drafting a novel just past the official month of writerly hoopla.

Inspired Mock Cover

It was half like having two NaNos, and half like having none at all. And in the end, I’d managed a bit of soul food and the first iteration of my debut published novel, INSPIRED.

My second NaNoWriMo, you were the one of faith in treasure yet unseen.

2012: The year I upped the ante, trying for not one novel, but two, in addition to my trip to California – to Tirzah, and to San Francisco’s Night of Writing Dangerously. Memories of starting precisely at midnight – a frustrating false start, with a voice I was too tired to get quite right. Of starting over, moving on stronger, pushing myself to cover ground as fast as perfectionism allowed. Of struggling to focus even as I got my hair did [sic] in braids so I wouldn’t have to fuss over it while I was out of town.

NaNo '12 Cover Pic

Novel One cooperated, wrapping up in a demented 12 days. Novel Two… oh, Novel Two, who knows when I’ll ever finish you? In my defense, you lied to me, but that’s another story, perhaps for another day. Between being led on a wild goose chase by a petulant protagonist, the glorious distraction of my best friend at my side, the lure of my heart’s city, and the overawing shindig that is THE NaNo write-in, I may have produced the words, but they were nothing like a novel.

My third NaNoWriMo, you were the one that defied all expectations.

2013: The year I couldn’t settle on a project. It was not for any lack of ideas. New concepts came and went, replaced by yet more, no sooner decided upon than abandoned for— for what? Something better? It didn’t have to be better. It just had to be right. And nothing at all was speaking to me. Nothing was singing to my discontented soul.

NaNo '13 Cover Pic

Three hours to the midnight kickoff, and I still wasn’t sure, but there wasn’t time, so I chose almost at random from the string of ideas I’d played with for a month. So close to the deadline, I was a mess of nerves, fearful of repeating the failure that was NaNo ’12, Part 2. Rarely has the blank page seemed so full of potential doom. But the words came, and with them, the story. And within that story, I released the kraken.

My fourth NaNoWriMo, you were the one as changeable as the sea.

2014: The year I mean to see my way to the conclusion of the Wilderhark Tales. The first new Wilderhark Tale I’ve written in years, the others close to completed when I decided to take the plunge and publish. For the first time, I’m working under the burden of expectation, and in the countdown leading up to the event’s start, the pressure was driving me nuts, to the point where I said to myself, “Y’know what? Screw this. The only way to be less nonsensically afraid of this thing is to just start writing it. And NaNo is not the boss of you. Now’s neither the time nor place to be the punctilious rule-follower you’ve ever been. Put on your writer pants and seize the day!

So on Wednesday, October 29th, I branded myself a NaNo Rebel by starting work on the book’s opening chapter.

My fifth NaNoWriMo, you are the one I reclaimed as my own.

NaNo was made for the author, not the author for NaNo. I don’t know what surprises are in store for me this writing month, but as far as victory is concerned, I’m already feeling like I’ve won more than the certificate waiting at the end of it all.

Who out there is sprinting toward the finish line with me? ^^

“Dangerous” or “Writing at Our Own Risk”

And now, the much-anticipated chronicle of… my Night of Writing Dangerously.

It all started in November of 2010 – my first National Novel Writing Month, and the beginning of my best-friendship with fellow writer Tirzah Duncan.

Fast forward to the November of 2011, when Tirzah attended her first NoWD, and dubbed it quite possibly the best night of her life.

Fast forward again (can you tell I’m the kind of writer that likes skipping past the slow parts?) to November 2012, when Tirzah and I arrived in San Francisco, she to write dangerously all over again, me to experience it for the first time.

Alright, stop – back up just a smidge. This part is worth watching.

Just before we reached San Francisco, in between stepping off of our train and stepping onto the BART (acronym for “Bay Area Rapid Transit”; more or less like a subway) that would take us toward our hostel, we stopped by the Office of Letters and Light – a.k.a., NaNo HQ.

Flashback to Tirzah of yesteryear.
Flashback to Tirzah of yesteryear.

Tirzah had visited the year before, and declared that I absolutely must drop in and say hi to any and all wonderful people behind NaNo that happened to be in the office at the time. So never mind that we’d just walked two miles carrying several pounds of stuff in the heat and the rain and looked a grand mess, drop in we did.

There were a handful of friendly faces about – including community liaison Sarah Mackey, NaNoWriMo program director Lindsay Grant, and a couple of interns whose names I feel like a failure for having forgotten. All were busy with preparation for the big night, mere days away.

Possible visitors’ reaction: “Busy? Aw. Well, I guess we’ll get out of your hair…”

Our reaction: “Busy? Ooh, ooh, how can we help you?!”

Call it our servants’ hearts, or call it a couple of NaNo fans’ wish to squeal that we had been Office of Letters and Light Elves (a term which I can’t remember whether we’d heard somewhere or coined ourselves), but even as worn out as we were, there was nothing we wanted more in that moment than to be of assistance to this worthy, word-revering nonprofit organization.

They welcomed our offer and offered water in return. We dumped our stuff in a corner, gratefully sucked down some H2O, and settled in to roll posters and stuff goody totes for the NoWD’s attendees.

Surrounded by totes and stuff with which to stuff totes, OLL Elf Tirzah displays this year’s logo of the Night.
Surrounded by totes and stuff with which to stuff totes, OLL Elf Tirzah displays this year’s logo of the Night.
OLL Elf Danielle rolls a poster, rubber band at the ready to seal the deal.
OLL Elf Danielle rolls a poster, rubber band at the ready to seal the deal.

After a few hours of light labor and cheerful chatting, Tirzah and I had to be on our way, but not before we received invitations to attend a NaNo-hosted dinner in some restaurant’s backroom the following night – a sort of pre-NoWD meet-and-greet. We were delighted to accept.

Fast forward past our phenomenal day of San Francisco sightseeing (or pause to take in the verbal-visual account of it here) to our showing up at the dinner with Jory, our fellow Wrimo friend from the hostel. While at the dinner, we made more Wrimo friends, and hobnobbed with NaNo bigwigs like Grant Faulkner, the OLL executive director. It was a good night. But it wasn’t THE Night. For that, we fast forward once more…

The shiny lobby of the Merchants Exchange Building was full of trench coats and fedoras, pinstripes and cocktail dresses, and laptops. Wall to wall writers with their laptops. Soon enough (despite what our restless anticipation may have led us to believe), we were allowed further in for cocktail hour.

Four words and a hyphen, my friends: “Bacon-wrapped shrimp” and “yum”.

Then into the Julia Morgan Ballroom we flocked, and selected tables at which to plug in our writing machines. (Tirzah and I were sure to pick a non-“Word War” table. We didn’t want to get involved in any writing races, just try to work on our novels despite all the cool distractions.) We stocked up on sweets from the candy buffet, and cashed in our raffle tickets in the hopes of winning fabulous prizes, and listened to encouraging opening remarks from the evening’s MC (that would be Sarah Mackey again). And then… the writing began!

Tirzah and a tablemate, looking dangerous.
Tirzah and a tablemate, looking dangerous.
The one piece of photographic evidence I’ve got that I (not just my camera) was actually at the event. That’s Maria hugging me, a fellow Wrimo; she took a shine to me, and was impressed by the mere rumor of my mad writing skillz. All the rumors are true, of course, but still, it’s flattering.
The one piece of photographic evidence I’ve got that I (not just my camera) was actually at the event. That’s Maria hugging me, a fellow Wrimo; she took a shine to me, and was impressed by the mere rumor of my mad writing skillz. All the rumors are true, of course, but still, it’s flattering.

Was the writing “involving or filled with danger; perilous” or “able or likely to do harm”? Heck, yeah! The hand-writers were at high risk of hand cramps! The high-speed typists might have inadvertently hit a delete key at any moment, erasing Lord only knows how many precious words! And I… – (I still shudder to recall this memory) – I at one point returned to my table from elsewhere to find that my laptop had been moved, my tablemates breaking it to me that, in my absence, someone had spilled a beverage.

Sums it up.
Sums it up.

Miraculously, I was able to get my laptop back up and running without doing anything fancier than pressing the power button. Heart attack, averted. Had I not updated the saved files on my portable flash-drive just before I left the table, this would have been a merciful wakeup call. As it is, let it stand as a reminder to us all: If it would stab your soul to lose it, back it up!

Mind you, I didn’t get a whole lot of new work done, that night; as I said, there were distractions, and, well, this was happening. Neither did I win any raffle prizes (meaning I couldn’t pull a 2011 Tirzah and be known as “The One Who Won The____” – in her case, that blank filled with “Scottish mantle”). But here’s something that did happen: While we writers were eating dinner, NaNo bigwigs were giving speeches. And during his speech, Grant Faulkner was making mention of a sampling of the wonderful things brought to the world through NaNo…and one example he cited was the best-friendship of Tirzah and Danielle.

Huzzah, she reached her word goal! Let the bell ring out and the head be crowned! ...and the, uh, tie be flung over her shoulder.
Huzzah, she reached her word goal! Let the bell ring out and the head be crowned! …and the, uh, tie be flung over her shoulder.

Yes. He spoke of us specifically. By name. In front of everybody. We were mini-celebrities!

But lest I run overlong, let us fast forward once more. Jory reached her 50,000 words, and got to ring the bell of triumph at the front of the room, to the enthusiastic applause of all. The Night came to an end, and Tirzah, Jory, and I remained behind to help clean up, Office of Letters and Light Elves even beyond the midnight hour. And then, at long and exhausted last, we walked back to the hostel. …y’know, after taking a detour to see some glowing books in the air. Just for a visually-magical finish.

We’d seen them in day’s light; now we wanted to see their light.
We’d seen them in day’s light; now we wanted to see their light.

So, what do you think? Was that account not awesome and well worth the hype? Hey, listen, if you want to make Office of Letters and Light Elves of yourselves, there’s a way for you to be a hero: Give them money. Not to be bluntly crass about it, but as I’ve mentioned, they’re a non-profit organization, and they run on donations. They appreciate every dollar they get, as do the gazillions of writers who benefit from their hard, inspirational, motivational work. Remember, people owe beloved novels and best-friendships and beautiful San Francisco trips to this. If you’re feeling generous, go for it. *ending impromptu fundraiser*

“Hostel” or “A Homophone for ‘Hostile’, but Way Friendlier”

As a part of my awesome NaNo 2012 adventure*…

*(My apologies to anyone who had performed a happy dance under the misapprehension that you wouldn’t have to hear another word about National Novel Writing Month until sometime next autumn. If you are, for personal reasons, sick to death of even a passing mention of the subject, please know that it was not my intention to contribute to your nausea, and have my assurance that this blog piece is not actually so much about The Month That Shall Not Be Named as it is about other stuff entirely. So do stick it out to the end of the article, if you feel that your constitution can handle it.)

…I traveled to California to, a) visit with my writing buddy bestie Tirzah and, b) participate in NaNo’s infamous Night of Writing Dangerously* in San Franciso*.

*(Both of these will totally get blog pieces all to themselves, in the near future. The “sick to death of NaNo” camp can feel free to skip the NoWD post.)

Now, while Tirzah’s house is significantly closer to San Francisco than is my place in the Midwest, it was still far enough away that we needed to find a place to board us while we were in the city. From what I glimpsed while walking its streets (usually somewhere in the range of “mildly lost” to “tragically lost”), San Fran’s got some ridiculously nice hotels to offer. But “ridiculously nice” = “crazy expensive”, often enough, and Tirzah and I were looking for something a little more within the budget.

Ultimately, then, we went with “a supervised, inexpensive lodging place for travelers, especially young travelers” – i.e., a hostel. The Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker Hostel, to be precise.

We arrived on a dark and stormy (well… rainy, anyway) Friday night, after a long day of missing train connections and walking several miles with forty-pound loads and inappropriate walking shoes (note to self from feet: Get some cushy insoles for my awesome boots) and, as I’ve mentioned, being lost. I was tired and sore and grumpy; Tirzah was tired and sore and less grumpy, because she’s the sort of cheerful person that I feel like punching in the face on nights like these. But upon the eventual discovery of the hostel’s door cleverly hidden just a few yards from where I’d been standing in despair, I did not cry – not tears of exhaustion at having to drag myself up three flights of stairs to get to the check-in desk, nor tears of joy at just finally, finally being there.

Checking in was a reasonably quick and friendly affair; we were given an overview of the rules of the realm, the keys we’d need to move about with autonomy, and the magical words every laptop-toting writer loves to hear: Free wi-fi. We spent our last hours of the evening in the common room, happily plugged in and slowly drying out and generally content with our lot. The night hadn’t ended before we’d gotten started on making ourselves at home, making friends, and making memories.

Tirzah with our new insta-buddy, Kat.
Tirzah with our new insta-buddy, Kat.
I told Tirzah to look like she was getting up to something in the kitchen;
she chose “no good”.

Pacific Tradewinds became our home base during our San Francisco stay; the place we looked forward to returning to after long days of sightseeing in the city and evenings dining and writing with fellow NaNo types. Falling out of my top-bunk bed didn’t happen, and enduring some roommate’s mighty snores for two out of my three nights there didn’t kill me (though I may or may not have spent a 4am contemplating suicide; my future husband had better not snore). Bathrooms were small and privacy was limited, but we’d been warned of that going in and were quite willing to pay that instead of additional money.

To my daily delight, every morning featured complimentary breakfast – toast (peanut butter and jelly optional) and cold cereal and hot tea and coffee. And if you were in the right place at the right time, somebody might offer you the remains of their lovely-smelling dinner from the next table over. (Evening number one, Tirzah and I were in that right place and time. Yum, yum, yay for chicken stir fry and potatoes.) There was even a Thanksgiving feast which, sadly, Tirzah and I didn’t get to partake in, having returned to her house the Monday before. On the upside, we didn’t leave too soon to miss out on contributing to the hostel-wide hand-turkey wall.

Voluntary holiday craft time!
Voluntary holiday craft time!
Tirzah is thankful for stars, clouds, ink and paper, the Night of Writing Dangerously, “The Night Circus” (the book that inspired her turkey’s design, by the way), a good night’s sleep, and all things noir.
Tirzah is thankful for stars, clouds, ink and paper, the Night of Writing Dangerously, “The Night Circus” (the book that inspired her turkey’s design, by the way), a good night’s sleep, and all things noir.
I’m thankful for books, characters, and we who write them; sky, water, and all pretty things blue; sisters, best friends *like* sisters, and San Fran; hostels that foster hand-turkey creation.
I’m thankful for books, characters, and we who write them; sky, water, and all pretty things blue; sisters, best friends *like* sisters, and San Fran; hostels that foster hand-turkey creation.
The Pacific Tradewinds hand-turkey wall, in all its glory. ...Or all the glory that we got to see before we left town, anyway.
The Pacific Tradewinds hand-turkey wall, in all its glory. …Or all the glory that we got to see before we left town, anyway.

So, that was pretty much my experience there. Travelers planning on passing through San Francisco, check it out. Pacific Tradewinds is run by a fun bunch of folks, and there’s plenty of cool stuff within walking or busing distance…some of which will get written about and photographically illustrated in a post coming soon to an Ever On Word blog near you. Stay tuned, y’all…