November is ‘National Novel Writing Month’, or NaNoWriMo for short. The challenge is to write 50,000 words within the month, and this year I am taking on the challenge myself.
Which means NaNoWriMo is no mean feat, as that translates as 1667 words per day. By no means impossible on any normal day, but unfortunately every day cannot be classed as ‘normal’. Certainly not in my life, anyway.
I had heard about the NaNoWriMo challenge a couple of years ago, but did not put any thought in to taking part, but then over the last couple of years I have started to spend more time writing. Mostly non-fiction writing such as articles for various publications.
Last year I saw friends posting about it across social media, So thought I would give it a go. I managed about 5000 words before giving up.
For a start, I had not started writing until almost a week in to the month, which certainly gave me an uphill challenge. But the big reason I gave up was that I was free writing a novel that I had no real interest in writing.
I had simply started to write to see what come of it. Free writing has it’s place, of course, but to push yourself to do it for 50,000 words? that’s hard.
The writing process
Although I had given up last year, it had stayed in my mind. I started reading various articles about not just the NaNoWriMo challenge itself, but novel writing in general.
Whilst methods of writing will diverge from writer to writer, there were many common themes emerging, most noticeably for me regarding the process of producing a first draft.
The approach here seemed to be that when doing your first draft you just pushed yourself to write. You don’t edit, you didn’t go back to change anything, you just pushed yourself to plow on no matter what.
After the first draft is complete comes the process of re-drafting, then re-drafting again, and again, and again, until you have the finished work.
I understood now that I didn’t have to produce a perfect, fully formed story during NaNoWriMo. It was just a first draft. Rough, imperfect, but a start. It would take work, and as is often the case with creative pursuits, you just have to get the work done!
The pursuit of perfection can hold back any artist. You can’t let that fear get in the way. You have to push through it, like hitting the wall when running. If you get the work done, it is out of your head. If you don’t, it remains trapped in your cranium. What’s the point in having creative ability if you don’t let it out?
A man with a plan
A counter to this would be to say ‘my time is valuable, what is the point in just writing without a plan? Wouldn’t that just be a waste of time?’
It certainly could be. For me though, I knew it would be worthwhile if I could come up with an idea that could excite me. Something to get my teeth in to.
In an issue of Writing Magazine, I read an article about using free writing exercises to generate ideas for fiction.
First, through free writing, I wrote a list of titles. I didn’t think about it, I just wrote. Next, I had to pick one that stood out (on the understanding that one would stand out). I picked out a title called ‘Anthony’s Fire’
Next I would write about the lead character, in the format of “My name is… and I am…”
I then wrote a couple of paragraphs from Anthony’s point of view. He is a ‘fire keeper’, and works in the furnaces of a giant floating city, from which all energy for the City is generated.
This was not in my head beforehand, it only came to me as I did this exercise. The next exercise was to write “[title] is about…”
Again, another few paragraphs, but this time from the author’s perspective, not that of the protagonist. From that I built a greater understanding of my setting, and the culture within it, along with what the story would actually be about.
I won’t go in to any more detail here about my story. As I’m sure you can appreciate from the description of ‘Anthony’, it’s already quite complicated. There’s nothing like digging yourself in to a hole to pique your own interest.
I hope an understanding of my process to get that far is interesting. And by ‘that far’, I mean to just get to the start line in the first place.
The NaNoWriMo challenge so far
How am I getting on with the NaNoWriMo challenge?
Well, it’s 25th November and I’ve written around 25,000 words, so not great!
I’m enjoying it, but between working a part time job during the day, and performing stand up around the country at night, my time is already quite restricted. I have pushed myself, but admit now that the chances of me finishing before the end of the month are extremely remote.
However, I have every intention of finishing my target word count before the end of this year, even if that means using some of the Christmas holiday to get my head down.
After that, who knows? It is not a given in my mind that this is something that could end up in publishable state. Strangely, that does not really seem to be the point.
This is about challenging myself to do something I have never done before. In doing so, I am pushing my creative boundaries, which can only strengthen my ability in other areas of writing and my comedy work.
It’s a challenge I am glad I have taken on, even if I may not cross the finishing line when planned.
Let me know if you are taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge in the comments below, it would be great to hear about your experiences. Also let me know if this is something you have ever considered doing.