Saturday, 1 December 2012

Attempting NaNoWriMo

So November has been an extremely busy month with no time for blogging, for number of reasons, but mainly because on the evening of October 31st I decided I was going to have a go at NaNoWriMo for the first time. For those unfamiliar with it, basically, every November, people around the world attempt to write a novel – or at least the first 50,000 words of a novel – between November 1st and 30th. To “win”, you don’t need to have finished the novel; you just need to have written 50,000 words of it during November. There are online forums and chatrooms and virtual and real-life “write-ins” to offer mutual support (and Twitter of course!). 

I used to write a lot when I was younger; prose, poetry, songs. I even had a poem published on Daisy Goodwin’s website as her “poem of the month” when I was at university. For various reasons, I stopped writing towards the end of my undergraduate days, and have struggled to get back into it since.  For the past couple of years I’ve considered doing NaNoWriMo but decided I just didn’t have the time or any ideas. This year I was toying with the idea of doing it as a “rebel” and getting back into my poetry again. When I got into bed on the evening of October 31st, an idea for a novel suddenly popped into my head, and so the next day I decided to actually sign up and have a go. I didn’t really think I’d finish – I had a lot booked in for November already, and didn’t think I could possibly maintain the momentum to do 50,000 words in 30 days anyway. I hoped I might manage to write a few thousand words to get me started.

As it turns out, I hit the 50k mark on 29th November. I was surprised at how easy it was; for the first week or so I struggled to stay on target (it works out as an average of 1667 words per day), but as my word count grew and I got further into it, the words came more easily. The novel is nowhere near finished yet, but I have a first draft of a novel forming before my eyes for the first time ever, which is amazing! And I am so incredibly happy to be writing again. I’ve even already got an idea for my next novel too!

I’m not sure I’d like to say I could offer any tips as such, but I can share a few observations which might be useful to anyone thinking about doing NaNoWriMo next year:

  • To make time to write I had to give up other stuff; day trips or cinema at the weekends, television, time spent messing around on the internet, etc! This also probably means I have been neglecting my friends a bit, which I will try to make up for in December! I am single and child-free so I can’t comment on fitting writing around family life, but I imagine it must be tricky. That said, I didn’t give up everything; I still managed to go running twice a week, go to Spanish class, run a new professionals’ event, go to London for the day to see a friend and also go there for one night for a gig (the ever-wonderful Alanis!) – and to work full-time! It’s about prioritising I guess, and if you want to write 50k words in one month then writing has to be one of your priorities for your free time.
  • I loved the community feel of NaNoWriMo, not just the online support offered through Twitter and the forums, but also the real-life Write-Ins which I went to on Sundays at a café-bar in Bristol. It was lovely to meet other people doing the same thing, and to sit and write together. I will really miss this aspect of it – but happily, Lisa is looking into setting up an online group for librarians who have done NaNo and want to continue writing with support from each other.
  • I didn’t read anything during November – not just because most of my spare time was devoted to writing, but also because I was worried about inadvertently copying someone else’s plot or writing style! I’ve missed reading so I’m really hoping that this will be less of a risk when writing at a less frantic pace.
  • When I was away from a computer, I wrote by hand. It was frustrating typing it up rather than writing new words (and difficult to resist the urge to edit!) but better than not doing any writing at all, I feel. 
  • I haven’t slept much during November, not just because I often stayed up late to keep writing, but also because, particularly at the start, my brain would be buzzing with thoughts and ideas for my novel, keeping me awake. As a result my caffeine consumption has rocketed. This may not be entirely healthy.

So, what next? Well, I am going to keep writing. I’d like to have finished the first draft of this novel by Christmas, then I will put it away for a couple of weeks, before taking it out again to start the editing process. The ideal outcome would be getting it published, and this is what I will work towards. Ambitious, yes - but plenty of people become published novelists, so why not me? As I mentioned earlier, a group of librarians who want to keep writing together are forming an online writing group, so that will be brilliant for keeping up the support that NaNoWriMo offered.

To anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year, all I can say is yes, do! I am so glad I decided to give it a go – without it, I’d still be having vague thoughts about doing some writing one day, and not actually doing any. It has been the kick up the bum that I needed, and, without sounding too clichéd (and I promise my writing is better than this!), it has changed my life for the better. I am so excited to see what I can come up with. And if you don't "win", then that doesn't matter - you've still done some writing which you might not have done otherwise. If you need any further convincing, read Bethan’s lovely blog post on her feelings towards writing since starting NaNoWriMo, and Samantha’s post on finishing.

Happy writing!