Want to write your true crime story? Sign up for NaNoWriMo!

I’ve been writing about my experience of getting stalked by a neighbor. Many readers have asked how to write about their real crime experiences. This post is one of a series of posts, answering those questions. Click for an overview of topics: Want to write your personal true crime story?

Now it’s time to knuckle down and get to work writing your memoir about the worst thing that ever happened to you. Ever. While you’re getting amped up, sign up for a competition like NaNoWriMo--short for National Writing Month--to encourage yourself to keep writing. You see, it’s one thing to dream about becoming a hotshot novelist/epic poet/blogger/ screenwriter/storyteller/<fill in the blank>, and another thing to actually do it. On my side of the keyboard, it’s nothing short of a small series of psychotic earthquakes, each time I open a new document. Then comes the dry-mouthed, dizzy falling feeling, as I question myself. Where to begin? How to craft the damn thing?

Right about the time of realization—what sounded awesome in my thoughts looks like ass when actually typed—doubt sets in. It finger-points at the screen. Who would actually read those three sentences? It then whispers anti-epiphanies. Why not just catch up on Mr. Robot, instead? In fact, it’s a rare beautiful fall day: go outside. While outside, Ben and Jerry’s has a buy one pint, get one pint half off. Besides, a little break is due, because after all, I did write three ass-worthy sentences, that will be waiting when …

… and then interrupt Doubt. “NO! I’M STICKING TO IT!” Write another sentence right about the time my kitty pukes kibble all over the rug (and he’s walking while barfing), and … after returning to my four-line draft and …

Giving up after four sentences is doing nothing to fulfill your writing dreams. You know this, and might be equally frustrated. And equally distracted. Which is why I’m pitching using NaNoWriMo—which is in November, only a few days away—to move over the hump. You get a month to write a 50,000-word novel. Which means you have to write daily, otherwise (despite those skills while write that all-nighter college term paper), your deadline gets hosed. If you tend to be freakishly attuned to making deadlines (guilty), that word count alone will be enough motivation to chuck self-doubt into the nearest gutter and keep writing.

In fact, there’s no time to edit. Absolutely no time. But then, making things pretty isn’t the point of the exercise: getting your words on paper is the point. Roughing up a draft. If you’re unsure if you work is an inner-demon purge or if it’s a serious piece (I wrote about this quandary here), at this point, NaNoWriMo doesn’t care about the difference. Just write, and see what shakes out. You’ll likely find only one paragraph of good content out of three pages. At that, that one paragraph might be really good because you were in such a rush to make headway on that 50000 word count, that you let yourself write freely, and got to the heart of something good. And that’s not bad.

Keeping with the encouragement, NaNoWriMo hands out badges for accomplishments and has a store with great swag. (Who doesn’t like rewards?) It facilitates buddying up with other writers. Some cities have live write-ins at the kick off. If you’re the touchy-feely type, these cohorts can become your new best friends as you mutually encourage each other towards a common goal. For the competitive sorts, these folks are fellow gladiators whom you must best in the Thunderdome.

I invite you to join the ring, erhm, the fun. Though, have to tell you, it was depressing signing in for the November 2015 competition after skipping the past couple of years. Last time I participated, ended two weeks into the competition after blowing out both wrists by sitting at a too-high counter at Starbucks. It was too painful to continue. (I refer to it as my once-in-a-lifetime sports injury.) NaNoWriMo reminded me of that fact by stating on its post-login page: Welcome Amy! You’ve been a member for six years, and haven’t written a novel.

My inner gladiator moaned, “Dammit.”

Witness my shame. OK, but it might actually be simply stating that I haven't written a novel for 2015. Cancel my shame.

Witness my shame. OK, but it might actually be simply stating that I haven't written a novel for 2015. Cancel my shame.

Despite not having a finished novel, the competition wasn’t a complete loss. For that brief time of cranking on that now-abandoned novel, I learned what works for me as a writer. Like, despite best intentions, starting a new piece with an outline doesn’t work. Too many outlines in Microsoft Word and even sticky notes stuck all over a large mirror have gotten scrapped. Friends who know me by my freakish organizational skills are shocked to learn that underneath the neat and organized façade is chaos. That’s why I’m so organized: someone has to keep this hot mess under control. My mind bounces here and there and everywhere. Even while writing, three thoughts come simultaneously, and I scramble to write them down. Scattering them here, there and everywhere throughout the page. Outlines too soon in the process are frustrating: they lock me in. I can’t write around them. Then more self-doubt careens in, making me wonder why I didn’t choose a better craft, like macramé.

Writing willy-nilly with a general end goal, without time to over-think my content, does work, and NaNoWrimo supports that writing style. Maybe, some day, I’ll eventually get the hang of organizing content first. But for now, dumping helter-skelter content onto a page, of which half will surely get deleted, and later punching the raw content into a cohesive format does wonders.

However, it also means that (if you’re from the US) you will openly hate every loved one who invites you to Thanksgiving dinner during the NaNoWriMo spring. I suggest brining your laptop and disappearing for a few hours. Your apology over why you’re briefly disappearing, and your writing goals, can be worked into the stagnating conversations over the turkey. You can casually mention that the author of The Night Circus, (my new favorite novel) got her first draft as a result of NaNoWriMo. That you need to scurry away from the table pronto, to continue with your own great novel.

After all, you have to start writing somewhere. Why not now? Why not during a madcap race?