It’s the first week of November and, for many of you out there, it’s also the first week of this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. (For those of you who don’t know, November is the month when writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words, or the best part of a novel, in thirty days). I tackled the NaNo monster in 2014 – I had an idea, a little bit of time, and it seemed a good way to get started. I’d just begun blogging, so only wrote a couple of posts about the process (at the time I posted once a week). So I thought I’d take a look back and see how it went…
From A Month Without Ambeth, published November 8, 2014:
This month I’ve had to focus on a new book. It is November, National Novel Writing Month and I, along with millions of other writers around the world, am taking the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. I must say I wasn’t sure, when I signed up, that I would be able to do it. 50,000 words seemed like an awful lot to complete in thirty days. I wondered whether they had to actually be in any sort of order, whether just typing out 50,000 unconnected words would count, you know, if I came down with a massive case of writer’s block and was unable to think of anything. I had visions of my family peering wide-eyed around the study door at me as I hacked away, wild haired and red eyed, desperate to finish. But so far, touch wood, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. I’m about 20,000 words into my novel, working up an idea I’ve had for a little while, and I’m really enjoying the story.
I wrote this at the start of the month, when I was still a bit starry eyed about the process – believe me, the sailing became less smooth towards the end of the month. However, I did reach the 50k target – then I closed the manuscript down, as I couldn’t bear to look at it any longer. I wrote a follow up post about the experience, and I do still think it rings true…
From Into The Woods Once More, published December 5, 2014
I hit my 50,000 words with a few days to spare and managed to write a few blogs as well. My family were kept clothed and fed, my house (reasonably) tidy and I even did a few small client pieces. At the time it really didn’t seem strange to sit down and bang out 2,000 words a day, images and conversations from my story coming to me so quickly it became a race to get them on the page.
But now I can’t look at it at all. It’s not that I don’t love the story I wrote – I do, and I believe once it’s finished it will be a fairly decent piece of writing. But it was as though when I hit the 50,000 word mark, whatever was feeding me the story switched off in my brain, and I didn’t want to know about it any more. I did print out some pages from it in a half-hearted effort to start an edit, but I put them down after a few minutes. I guess what I’m saying is that NaNo was a more profound experience than I’d considered it to be at the time, and I’m being shown I need time to step back and recover before I revisit the story again…
…NaNo forces us to be writers, meaning that during the challenge we have to find the time to write every day whether we want to or not. But on further reflection I think it can also mean that NaNo forces our brains to think like writers. Personally, in the last month I feel as though I’ve made huge progress in my comprehension of what works on the page. … It was as though writing so quickly and intensely for a month had changed the way I see my work for the better. It reminded me of a time many years ago when I was training for my black belt. I was at the dojo six days a week doing teaching hours and extra classes (all around my university work). After a while of training at this intensity the movements become second nature, fights slowing down so you can see the next move, everything crystal clear. It seems to me that NaNo works in a similar way – that the act of writing a huge amount of copy every day is like intensity training for the mind, leading us towards a place of effortless effort where the story becomes clear.
As it turned out, that story did lead somewhere. It became my latest book, A Thousand Rooms. It took me another two years to iron out the creases, replace placeholder sentences with actual scenes, have it beta read, edited, then go through the whole publishing process. And it’s a story I’m quite pleased with, if I’m allowed to say that about my own work.
So, why am I sharing this? I guess it’s because I always think about NaNo at this time of year and, having just published the proceeds of my first attempt, it seems appropriate to look back at the process. So if you’re out there battling the monster, just keep writing. Even if you reach the end of the month short of the 50k target, you’ll still have words written down. And you never know, it could be the start of something magical.