My 50,000 Word Niche

I have never been much of a social writer. Although I’m attracted to the glorified image of the young café novelist typing away at a glowing screen—steaming coffee to one side of the keys and a half-eaten Danish crumbling on the other—I’ve never found it to be my niche. It’s too much of a hassle; too inconvenient to gather together my notes and various equipment of pen, paper, and electronics and haul them to the local coffee scene to do something that could as easily be done in the comfort of my home.

So, per usual, home was exactly where I had planned to tackle this year’s latest writing excursion and old friend, National Novel Writing Month. Set in the month of November, National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as the tongue-twister NaNoWriMo), is the time of year when the most insane among us commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in only 30 days. Yup, that’s 1,667 words a day, every day, for an entire month.

Literary abandon had always been a personal matter for my writing. I welcomed NaNoWriMo every year for the challenge that I thought it was; a solitary endeavor, not for the faint of heart, where author and novel get lost in each other.

The only problem? I had only been successful two of the four attempts of reaching the 50,000-word goal. This year, I would have to change something if I was going to be able to keep my bragging rights.

It was during my second NaNo 1st that I first branched out. I was armed with my laptop and a notebook full of outlines and possible endings, plot holes and character profiles. The folded bills in my pocket were burning a hole that would smolder until I paid for a coffee. I had never been to this pleasant corner of West Hartford before. Shops and parking meters lined the street, each window display flowing into the next. The gray sky above and mist of rain did not put a damper on the flow of shoppers that were marching up and down the sidewalks. It was a Saturday afternoon, barely 2pm. I was so distracted by my surroundings that I almost missed the narrow entrance to a shop comfortingly named Così.

True to its name, I felt the warm atmosphere of Così before I had even pulled back my hood. Softly lit and crowded with small wooden tables, the counter-serve restaurant was a sandwich shop with the feel of a local café. Some of the items on the menu that immediately caught my eye included the limeade, a hearty-looking greek salad, and hearth-fired flatbreads. I was already in love.

Icy drink in hand, I slyly scanned the packed tables. No one looked like they were here to write. One older gentleman sat in the very front of the store, laptop plugged into an outlet by the door, but I knew the crowd I was looking for would be larger.

What I didn’t expect was the entire back section of the restaurant to be designated to just the people I was looking for. At least a dozen square tables were pulled together to create long workstations, populated with papers and tablets. Almost everyone was equipped with a silver MacBook, although I saw the occasional black bulk of a Dell in the crowd. A brief sweep told me that at least twenty people had come to write. I looked to be the youngest. Although there were a few others that could still be undergraduate students, most looked to be at least 30+ years old. I was a baby in this crowd.

A woman named Kat, not quite in her thirties, sported a Municipal Liaison t-shirt in highlighter yellow. She handed me a thick packet, stapled in one corner and titled “Emergency Novel Kit” and welcomed me to sit in one of the few empty seats. I had to step gingerly, least I tripped on the maze of extension cords and laptop chargers.

As I settled into a seat, elbow to elbow with writers on either side of me, with no room to put my notebook down, I decided that I didn’t like this whole idea of “social writing.” My hunch had been correct. It was just not the thing for me.

“Time for a sprint!” someone called out.

Kat, in her highlighter yellow t-shirt and loose ponytail, held her phone up, timer ready. Around me, everyone hurried to save their documents and open new blank windows. I had barely got mine open before they began.

“Ten minutes on the clock! Ready? GO!”

Everyone fell silent. The buzz that had previously empowered this part of the restaurant was gone, replaced with the light tapping of mouse feet as fingers flew across keyboards. No one spoke to each other. Everyone was in their own little world. Their own stories.

As the clock ticked away, I settled down and began to write.

Sprints came and went, the space between them filled with conversation and the eating of flatbreads. By the time people started to get up and said their goodbyes, I had a gathered a Word Document of 2,832 words. For the first time in my NaNoWriMo career, I was ahead of my daily word count goal.

My back had a pleasant ache on the drive home. My head was flooded with black ink and Times New Roman letters. My novel was alive and demanding to be written. Even after a couple hours of non-stop writing, my fingers were already itching to get more on the page.

More trips to Così and the local Starbucks paid off. I found myself gathering my things every morning and going to sit at these places even when no meet-ups were scheduled. I didn’t mind the chatting going on around me, or the person with the laptop set up at the next table. I found myself wondering if they were doing NaNoWriMo as well, sneaking glances at their screens to find out if my hunches were right.

NaNoWriMo wasn’t a solitary challenge anymore. Even though everyone was writing a different novel set in a different time period or world, we were all chipping away at the same 50,000-word goal. Thirty days later, I found myself with the first 50,062 words of a manuscript.

Last year, I failed my novel almost before I had put a single word on the page. I knew I was too busy to attend write-ins that year. I told myself I would write after my classes every day. I would find time to sneak sentences between customers at my retail job. I would write in the comfort of bed at home, or at my kitchen table. I made excuses.

I didn’t talk to anyone embarking on the NaNo journey, and I quit after the first week. I had a measly 5,380 words. With this year’s November 1st less than three weeks away, I am already determined to leave the previous year’s failures behind me. Nights off of work to attend write-ins are a must. I have a few close friends of mine at my side this year to hound me if things go astray. My boyfriend is prepared to hear word from me come December 1st, and not a day sooner.

Writing is not a solitary sport. With that in mind and an army of NaNo-ers at my side, I believe I have finally found my niche.

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