Trying Out NaNoWriMo

Documenting a first-time attempt at National Novel Writing Month to see if it has any benefit for authors.

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The first time I heard of NaNoWriMo, I thought, What the hell’s that?

It’s a good question, and every time I hear it, I still think Mork and Mindy are going to make an appearance. Say it three times, and strange things might happen, Beetlejuice style.

But, it’s a real thing. If you are reading this, then I can only assume that you have an interest in writing, and it may be for you. Unfortunately, this year might be a little too late, but there’s always next year.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an American thing, but seems to have got quite some traction this side of the Atlantic. That wasn’t where I started though. My introduction was through the good people at Thanet Writers, who are supporting it with a series of write-ins held at Cliffs in Margate. The idea is very simple. It’s an annual challenge to write a minimum of fifty-thousand new words towards a novel over the course of November. 50k unedited, original words, any genre. You can prepare in advance by creating plot lines, character sketches, etc., but you aren’t allowed to draft a single word before 1st November.

I had an idea waiting in the wings. It had been kicking around for a while and I’d had a couple of attempts at writing it as a short and a novella, but each time I stalled. It really wanted to be a full-length novel—at least sixty-thousand words—so I thought I’d give NaNoWriMo a go.

When I started writing, I quickly realised how important the ‘no editing’ part is. NaNoWriMo is all about blasting that first draft down, drawn from your creative core, unconstrained by that nasty, time-absorbing analytic part of your mind that, if you are anything like me, seeks to ambush you at every turn.

It’s doing it now. I have an almost irrepressible urge to go back and check my last couple of chapters.

Fifty-thousand words in thirty days is quite a daunting target. But, it’s worse than that. I like weekends off—to be with the family and recharge—so I have to do it in twenty-two days. I need to average 2,272 words a day. That’s a lot for me. I’m usually happy if I get 1,500 down. When I started writing, it was more like 500. Also, I’m doing this full-time. I know a number of people who are doing this in their spare time, after a hard day at work, or looking after the family. For that, I have a lot of respect!

© 2018 Lee Stoddart / Used With Permission

I’ve eschewed all distractions, apart from some background music and the cat that comes to visit me twice daily, to check on my progress. I’m out of the gym and at my desk for 9am. I work until 12pm and break for half an hour or so. Then I’m back typing until 5, 6 or even 7pm—depending on where a natural break falls in the plot. It has glued me to my desk. I’m obsessed with the challenge. A couple of days in the last week, I’ve hit four-thousand words. That seems to me to be a ‘proper’ rate for a full-time writer after seven hours at a desk.

I’m also excited by the developing story; I think the plot’s moving at a good pace and the characters are filling out nicely. Hopefully, when I come to my first edit, it won’t be complete gibberish. But, that’s for later. At the moment I am just writing.

Just one final thought on this. NaNoWriMo provided the shove I needed and I had a fairly well thought-through idea to get me off the blocks. That made kicking-off the project a little easier. I think it is a good idea to try it, even if only once. The bad news is it’s hard work. The good news is, personally speaking, I’m finding it very motivational and I’m sticking with it. I’ve forsworn editing and re-drafting sections and yes, I’m just blasting it down, averaging about 2,400 words per day. That’s just over my required daily target and I’m picking up speed as I get into the guts of the thing. If I keep up my current rate, I’m going to hit more than sixty-thousand. Which, hopefully, will be a complete start-to-end first draft. If I can manage that, I will be very pleased.

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Lee quit the corporate world to write spec-fic and horror. He was twice shortlisted and published by the HG Wells Short Story Competition.

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