For those of you who haven’t come across this before, “NaNoWriMo” is the (rather ugly) contraction of National Novel Writing Month, which is the (slightly misleading) title of an international writing event. The idea of the event is that you write a novel during the month of November. To qualify as a winner, you have to complete 50,000 words in 30 days. And that’s tough.
Now, in my writing CV I can claim to have completed 2 novels and half-completed a third. Additionally, at the end of October I had the plot and some reasonable research for a fourth. I was struggling, though, getting bogged down in the detail. I was also spending much writing time and creative effort on writing flash fiction, which is fun, but if that’s all you do it’s like trying to survive solely on candy.
So I thought I’d give NaNoWriMo my best shot.
The first thing I realised was that I had to write the novel. The words had to go into the text. If I didn’t average 1670 words each and every day, I wasn’t going to succeed.
What did this mean in practice?
- Stop plotting – you’ve got word count to meet.
- Stop researching – you’ve got word count to meet. (Hack for this – put in a provisional word/phrase in red, so that it’s easy to check in a subsequent edit of the draft)
- Strictly limited time for editing.
Forcing myself to stick to this was really difficult, especially restraining my urge to edit!
What do I have at the end? 16 chapters – 53,000 words – of a rather badly written novel, “The Dove on the Pergola”.
Would I have this without NaNoWriMo? Definitely not. Would I have even one well-written chapter? Almost certainly not.
So, what would I have?
A lot of detailed notes and a maze of plotting getting in the way of writing…
And, to my surprise, the simple act of writing has clarified the plot and grown the characters. So, as well as 16 chapters written, I have a pretty clear idea of what I need to write to complete the novel.
I’m going to continue with similar intensity until the first draft of the novel is complete (going to allow myself Sundays off, though). Then I’m going to leave the manuscript for a short time while I work out a plan to edit it, a plan which will set targets for achievement that will limit the time I spend editing. (NaNoWriMo have an editing programme in the New Year, I believe, and I’m going to check it out).
Then I’m going to edit the manuscript, sticking to those targets, until I have a completely edited text. At that point, and not before, I shall print out the novel, and invite my trusted reader to give me her honest and unvarnished opinion… (Judgement Day!)
Was I a winner? Yes, I was – but the big win is having completed those precious 16 chapters that are going to be the basis of my novel. And maybe an even bigger win is that I now have a better understanding of how I need to work in future.
So thank you to the genius who came up with NaNoWriMo!
And a special thank you to Gabi, for being my writing buddy during the month. Those emails gave a precious extra boost to morale when it could have flagged!
It was a great and productive experience!