17 December 2010

Did I Ever Tell You About the Time I Wrote a Novel in Thirty Days?

Nanowrimo Winner: Writer Carolyn Starkey
by Carolyn Starkey

This is one Nano journey of a young writer...

Before I get into it all, I feel like you should know that I’m the only writer in my house… Actually, I’m the only real reader too, (And by real reader, I mean the one who does it for pleasure, not necessity.) the librarians know me by name before I show them my card, and they know my schedule … Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So when I went to my mother and told her that I was planning on writing fifty-thousand words in the month of November, she was dubious, she told me I was crazy, in her normal loving and caring way. 

I told her that I was going to do it; I knew I could, but she remained doubtful that I would finish, so she still egged me on, encouraged me, and wanted me to beat her expectations.

Yet on the Tuesday of the week before NaNoWriMo, the worst thing imaginable happened! Our only computer in the house crashed, and stayed down for the first six days of NaNoWriMo, and me, being a newbie to the game, didn’t think of writing in a notebook and transferring it to the computer later, so what did I do? I bit my nails, I paced, I sighed, and nervously went over my sketches, a fantasy novel, my first fantasy novel, as well as my first complete novel, about a pair of twins that get stuck inside a fantasy world. I didn’t add to them, I didn’t detract from them, I just read them over and over again, until they were burned in the back of my mind.

Finally, we got our computer back on the fifth, at night, but it was late, and we had just gotten back from a hike, so we all went to bed, and I sat up, anxiously waiting to use the computer.

I didn’t know that the crash was the best thing that happened to my novel, see, I didn’t have the feel for the fantasy novel, I couldn’t connect, so I didn’t start it, and on the way home from the hike, a very, very old song that has always evoked some strong emotions in me came on the radio, Lullaby by Shawn Mullins, the whole song was just so beautiful and it made me think, “What if a girl had a lullaby her mom and dad sang to her every night?” and so, Sunshine was born, and I shoved my old outlines and sketches under my bed, they didn’t exist, the only thing that was in my creative mind was Sunshine and her strange world, her eccentric parents, her colorful friends, and that was it.

To a first timer, at first, NaNo is terrifying, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the idea of fifty thousand words in thirty days is an extreme challenge, something you would expect trained and seasoned authors to attempt on a game show, even then, you would imagine them sitting on top of telephone poles, tied to their chairs until they reached the 1667 each day. What I didn’t imagine was that I could do it, of course, it wasn’t as extreme as I had imagined, but I found myself pleading with myself when I hit the dreaded middle portion, “If you write another thousand words, you can get lunch,” I would think to myself as I opened up the document. “If you write another two thousand, you can get ice cream!” I would bribe myself as I closed the window with the oh-so-distracting forums. At some points, I was depriving myself of using the restroom, “Write a thousand, Carolyn, you can use the bathroom later.” It wasn’t healthy, but I’m pretty sane other months.* I think one out of twelve isn’t that shabby...
So I worked, and I typed, ignoring all the Nay-Sayers, and watching as my family’s confidence in me rise with my word count goal, it was somewhere around the thirty percent mark that my mother was won over. She was supportive from the beginning, but she was really convinced when I told her how far along I was.

And, while you may think, “She just said NaNo is terrifying! Why would I want to do that?” it is terrifying, at first, when you don’t know what you’re doing, the only way I can describe it is that I went to camp this summer, and I was forty feet up in the air, doing a ropes course, nothing but two ropes and a harness keeping me from falling and probably dying. It was up to me to make sure my ropes were secure, and after I finished the course (Okay, I wimped out, almost puked and did the half-way one, but still.) the only way to get down was to attach myself to another rope on the edge of the giant tree house, sit on the knot of a rope, and go down, like a pendulum, I went full force towards the trees and screamed out of fear, but as I realized I wasn’t going to hit a tree, I let out another scream, not of fear, not of terror, but one of exultation, I had done it, I knew how I was getting down, I knew where I was going, and more importantly, I knew I was safe. The hardest part was over, and I got a pat on the back by a counselor who I had previously been sure hated me.

So do the things you’re scared of, do it as much or as little as you want, but you’ll feel fulfilled and proud once you finish, and it’s worth it to see the screen telling you that you won. Print out your certificate and enjoy your bragging rights, especially when someone tries to tell you about a time they did something that was daring and wonderful, you can just smile at them and say, “Did I ever tell you about the time I wrote an entire novel in thirty days?”

*Others would try to disprove that, but I’m kind of normal… sometimes.

Carolyn Starkey is a homeschooled freelance writer born in Anchorage, Alaska and raised there until she was three, when she and her family traded in the snow of Alaska for the sun of North Carolina, where she is still currently living. She has three siblings, a brother who is an orthodontic assistant, and two sisters who are in college for cosmetology. She is the only writer in her house; she is also the only avid reader.
When Carolyn isn’t writing, she likes to paint miniature birdhouses. 
You can see what she’s up to at www.starnovels.webs.com


  1. Congratulations to you Carolyn for an outstanding job. Loved your description of grasping the new idea and developing it over the first story.

    It is funny what will trigger our mind so that the story comes alive.

    Hope to see your name more as you continue your writing career.

  2. Carolyn Starkey12/20/2010 1:42 PM

    Thank you, John!

  3. John won the Peevbody for Outstanding Support of Writers from Peevish Penman... you can see why, right?

    But yes, I agree, I'm very excited for you Carolyn and I think you've got an excellent start.

  4. God bless you my little friend! i am so proud of you! but you know that already! you have been on your way for awhile, this just proves it! Congrats again future author of the Great American Novel! God truly honors those who love Him! ttyl on ffg!
    Rev. Dr. Catherine F. DiNitto

  5. Thanks for visiting our site Dr. DiNitto, I'm guessing you may know Carolyn personally and if you do, I have to say please encourage this girl and encourage others to encourage her.

    It's not difficult to begin a freelance writing career, but the great American authors are in the eyes of the beholder... it starts with just a few people seeing that and one person believing in themself.

    And Carolyn is absolutely awesome already :).