The first story I ever heard was when my dad told me the story of goldilocks and the three bears. At first I remember being really confused, wondering why he was relaying these odd events to me. In the middle of the story, I came to the realization that these events were fictitious. I was enthralled. This new concept of storytelling was intriguing.
Ever since my first story-hearing experience, I’ve been fascinated with stories. I quickly developed the ability to read by reading books by Eric Carle. My favorite one was the Little Hungry Caterpillar. When I was four, I scrawled a story called “Under the Sea” on a large piece of paper, about about a fish and a whale who were friends until one of them stole the other one’s toy. (They eventually made up and became friends again.)
I continued writing “books” as a child, anthropomorphizing everything from planets of the solar system to chess pieces. My sister Kelly illustrated a set of stories I wrote about three bumbling thugs named Lenny, Crenny, and Snoop. And through the years, my love of story grew as my mom would read to my sisters and I at the breakfast table. Stories of Italian shipmen, French painters, American pioneers: we loved them all and would sit enraptured in the warm sun at the kitchen table until well into the afternoon.
My elementary and middle school years were spent reading and reading: my mom, sisters and I would go to the library and come home with giant stacks of books. After dinner we’d sit in the family room reading until bedtime. On one of our excursions to the library, I found a book in the library called “Look at my Book” by Loreen Leedy. This book, written specifically for elementary schoolers, detailed the writing process in simple, kid-friendly terms, from ideas and brainstorming to characters, setting and formatting. This quickly became my favorite book ever and it wasn’t long until I was following the step-by-step process, but my perfectionism quickly got in the way and I never got far past the first step.
Another time we went to the library, I found a book called “In Print,” a student’s guide to self-publishing and how to get literary work published. This book prompted me to set a personal goal: become a published author. The thought of having a printed book that I had written was so exciting. But although I started many stories, I never got further than the first chapter: lack of motivation and planning resulted in an apathetic sort of writer’s block.
Everything changed when I heard about NaNoWriMo. “NaNoWriMo,” short for “National Novel Writing Month,” is a yearly event taking place during the month of November in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Winners of the challenged would receive a code for a free, bound proof copy of their book. I was in eighth grade when my cousin Leah participated for the first time. I cheered her on right until the last day, when she wrote thousands of words to finish her novel, a collection of short stories about a quirky American family. As I read her manuscript, I knew that I had to participate in NaNoWriMo the next year.
On October 31st of my freshman year of high school I sat surrounded by library books about plot structure, setting development, and the art of crafting characters. I rolled a huge piece of paper out onto my kitchen floor and worked on planning for what I would write the next day. I was more than ready to embark on this creative endeavor.
I spent hours pounding away on the keyboard the next day. The thought of an impending deadline kept me motivated to write, as well as the support of my sisters and cousins, who were also participating in the challenge. I couldn’t get the words onto the page fast enough. My story, “Shockwaves,” was about six children from another world who used a machine to escape from their world and come to Earth. It was thrilling for me to write about their many escapades and all the mischief they got into.
By the end of the month, I had reached the required 50,000 words. I was ecstatic. But my manuscript was far from polished: threads of plot were left hanging, characters randomly appeared and disappeared, and the rush to write, write, write meant that my spelling and grammar were oftentimes atrocious. I set the manuscript aside with the intention of revising it after December. I never touched it again.
The next year, I participated in NaNoWriMo again and won. I set aside my manuscript–and never edited it.
It was May when I realized that although NaNoWriMo helped me achieve a large word count, the resulting manuscript would always be a frightful pile of loose ends and plot holes unless I did extensive planning before. I still had the code to get a free proof copy of a book, but that code expired July 1st. I made up my mind: I would spend the month of May extensively planning the plot for a novel, and the month of June writing it NaNoWriMo style.
I filled pages of notebooks with character descriptions that month. Spreadsheets filled with detailed scene descriptions. Instead of the giddy nervousness I had experienced my first NaNoWriMo, I felt a steely determination. I had thirty days to pound out a cohesive novel and send it over the internet to be printed.
This time, as I wrote my novel I had a clear roadmap ahead of me. I knew precisely what was supposed to happen in each chapter, I had a definite understanding of the overall story arc, and I already had two completed manuscripts under my belt. I finished my first cohesive rough draft of a novel in June and ordered my free proof copy of the novel.
I still remember when the copy of my own book came in the mail. The shiny cover and cream-colored pages felt so unreal. As I flipped through the pages and read the words I had crafted, I felt pretty darn proud of myself.