By Helena Verdier, Photo by Angela Tilley

National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo, is an annual writing challenge that takes place in the month of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words over the course of the month, enough to write the average novel. Despite the name, participants can write anything, as long as the total word count goal is 50,000 words. Helena Verdier, a municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo Ottawa, wrote about her experience racing to hit the word count and gave some tips for NaNoWriMo beginners.

If you had asked me just over a month ago how I thought National Novel Writing Month would go, I would have been very hesitant to say anything more than “I’m hopeful?”

Now that we are a week post-November, I’m still in shock. Statistically speaking, this was my best year yet. Out of 30 days, there were only three where I was below par. Also, I had the least amount of words left to write on the 30th than I’ve ever had, only a “mere” 3,328. I like that number much more than the 7,685 words I had to grind out one year, which was grueling, but I still won.

Week 1 was a great week for me. I was averaging at about 2,000 words a day, above the 1,667 words you want to get per day, and even had a 3,000 word day. At about the fourth day, I ran out of pre-planned plot, brainstormed and had a vague idea where I wanted to go . . . Then the sixth day happened, which led me on a 21,000 word jaunt before I returned to the main plotline. I didn’t get back on track till day 18.

Week 2 was equally as good. I wrote about 5,000 words at our annual All-Day Write-in, where we had a Harry Potter House Cup—more like a cauldron—and I led Hufflepuff to second place as Tonks. Just, uh, don’t ask—after that I started slowing down. The pep-in-my-step was less pep and more step, so I was on my own, slugging through at an acceptable pace, but nowhere near what I had been doing before.

Week 3 was a thing that happened. I got really sick—Thanks, Boyfriend!—and had about three days where I wrote absolutely zilch, nada, nothing—aka, zero words. Luckily, I had about 10,000 words written above par on day 12, so I didn’t fall behind, except for on a couple of days. But I was easily able to catch up to par and finished the week slightly above where I was supposed to be.

Week 4 was only slightly more productive than week 3, but I entered a challenge with one of my co-municipal liaisons to see who could get to 50,000 words first.  Spoiler alert: I lost. I had the upperhand for a couple of nights, but then I wrote very little one day and it was toast for me from there. She battered through 50,000 words on the 29th, the lucky bugger. But, while sipping away at a lovely margarita made with ginger beer, I made my way across the finish line with 67 extra words and celebrated with a mini cheesecake.

And that is a summary of my ninth attempt at NaNoWriMo. You would think I could do this thing in my sleep by now, but it’s only now that I feel like I’m hitting my stride. This year was a challenge for me. Taking five classes is just bad for your health, kiddos, and working weekends is awful for getting to your word count, but this was a surprisingly stressless year. I accepted failure and wrote because I wanted my story to be told. Though I will admit that 21,000 word plot bunny is absolutely genius. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it ‘til I was already writing the

Since I am your local municipal liaison, I should probably impart some wisdom on you. But first, yes, this is crazy, and yes it can be done, even with school and work and having a life. Well, it can take over the life part, but it’s only for a month. My tips would be to try and plan at least a little bit. Even having a vague idea with a couple characters and a simple plot can make things easier. Also, setting aside specific times that are for writing and for homework is good. Plus, counting homework for your word count is totally a thing.

One of the last tips I have is to come out to local write-ins! We have an amazing community of writers and we have over 50 events across the city and throughout the month, there’s bound to be at least one you can attend. And most WriMos agree that going to a write-in can be an amazing word count boost. Seeing everyone around you writing away is very motivating. I highly recommend you challenge yourself next year.

The next challenge for me is the hardest: finishing the novel. I’ve only ever written ‘the end’ on one novel and I intend to write it at the end of this one. Preferably before next November.