How NaNoWriMo Changed My Life

At the end of October 2012, I had writing on the brain. It was a few weeks until the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, and I was ready to go all-in. The previous year, I participated in NaNo to complete a shorter project, a mini travel memoir that was never meant to be more than 15-20,000 words. After I hit my target word count, I drifted away from the NaNo scene.

But in 2012, I was back with a vengeance. I wanted to write something new, something fun, something fast-paced and exciting. I wanted to build worlds and plot battles. I wanted to write a book that I’d like to read, one that would keep people up at night because they couldn’t stop turning pages.

All I needed was an idea.

Then, a few weeks before NaNo began, I stepped onto a junk boat and sailed out into the middle of Victoria Harbour. The waters around Hong Kong Island are packed with vessels big and small, from giant cargo ships to yachts to little fishing sampans. On that day, as we pulled away from the dock at Tsim Sha Tsui, I looked up and saw my idea.

It was a cruise ship–the Star Pisces to be exact. At 579 feet long, it was not the biggest or most luxurious of ships. It sailed out every night full of gamblers headed for international waters and returned in the morning. That particular morning as it sailed past our little junk, I thought, “Man, it’s like a floating city.”

Wham! Bang! There was my idea. A floating city. Permanent. A ship built for vacations and getaways transformed into a survival vessel. There would be other ships, some large and luxurious, some battered and barely staying afloat. There would be action. There would be atmosphere. The people would be one disaster away from extinction.

The ideas kept coming. We anchored in a little cove, swam, drank, ate, got sunburned. Meanwhile, the possibilities for my story were churning through my mind. I didn’t need to scribble them on a napkin, JK Rowling-style. The images were vivid, and they stuck.

Over the next few weeks I researched and planned and outlined. I went on YouTube tours of ships and scoured the websites of marine diesel engine manufacturers. I sorted through apocalypses and desalination methods. I developed characters, including a somewhat prickly young mechanic named Esther.

On November 1st, I was ready.

The first draft of Seabound (called The Vertigo) was 57,002 words long by the end of the month. Over the next two years I would rewrite and revise and write some more. There were beta readers and writers’ groups, an engineer advisor (my dad) and a professional copy editor. But it was the all-in rush of that first NaNo month that got me started on this path.

Two years later, Seabound is finished. I wrote the first draft of the sequel the spring after my first NaNo. In November of 2013 I wrote the prequel. This November, I’m writing the fourth and final book in the Seabound Chronicles. 27,555 words and going strong.

So how did NaNoWriMo change my life? It kicked off this little adventure. It showed me the fierce, joyous world of writing in a way that my earlier creative non-fiction works didn’t. It was the impetus and the inspiration I needed to embark on this heady, uncertain career.

Some of you may know that I quit my job in July to focus on finishing and launching the Seabound Chronicles (and my work under my other pen name). I’m still deep in the trenches and it’ll be a while before I know whether or not Seabound is a success, but I’ve got to tell you it has been one heck of a voyage.

Now, I’d better get back to writing.

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