NaNoWriMo got the best of Aren Bergstrom this year.
This was the fourth year the University of Saskatchewan graduate participated in National Novel Writing Month, an annual creative writing challenge. Every November, its participants attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Bergstrom, who is now studying television and film at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., said writing a novel on top of writing a screenplay for school was too much for him.
“I tapped out because I thought that my film school endeavours would suffer if I continued to work on NaNoWriMo,” he said. “I lacked the energy at the end of 12 hour school days to write 1,667 words on a children’s novel.”
Bergstrom’s project this year was “an all ages novel with fantasy elements, something in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.”
He said he wasn’t happy with how the novel was progressing compared to his past two NaNoWriMo projects.
In his first year attempting NaNoWriMo, Bergstrom was floored by how difficult it was to write over 1,600 words a day.
“I was trying to write something very literary and the idea wasn’t that fleshed out. I got half the novel done, but then I was running on fumes and it petered out incomplete,” he said. “I just wasn’t used to writing that many words in such a short period of time.”
The next year Bergstrom came prepared.
“The second year I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to accomplish and I was writing genre fiction, so I finished the novel without much trouble. The same can be said for last year.”
He said that the more he participates in NaNoWriMo, the more he realizes how important an outline is when writing a novel.
“My biggest advice to prospective NaNoWriMo writers would be to plan your novel and not be daunted by the word count. The words will come to you easier than you think they will if you really own your story and have fun with it.”
First-time NaNoWriMo participant Logan McCormick reiterated Bergstrom’s advice.
“I didn’t plan the arc of my story out before beginning so I’m constantly problem solving and steering myself away from dead ends. If I do it again next year I’d like to plot out a complete framework before I begin,” McCormick said.
His novel is about a 17-year-old whose alcoholic father turns out to be a werewolf.
“Truth be told the story is sort of a mess,” McCormick said. “I thought of the idea literally days before starting and 37,000 words in I still don’t know how it’s going to end. That’s the fun part about writing at such a fast pace though. I’m discovering the story as I write it.”
McCormick’s friend Josh Robinson also tried out NaNoWriMo for the first time this year.
Robinson said that while he’s had trouble keeping up with the recommended word count — he’s written roughly 16,000 words — he still considers his project a success.
“I have had a lot of disparate ideas and this project is providing me with a template for future projects. It’s cool to put it all together,” he said.
While Robinson and McCormick said they would like to participate in NaNoWriMo again next year, they hesitate to commit simply because it is such a time-consuming and exhausting task.
Bergstrom, on the other hand, is already preparing for next November.
“I’ll try again next year. I think I’ll try every year so long as [NaNoWriMo] keeps going,” he said.
“I need to approach it from a more professional standpoint, working like I would if I were to write a screenplay, and just using the month as an incentive to write more than I typically would.”
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf