While I was studying creative writing with the Open University in 2012, a fellow student mentioned that she was going to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) that year. At the time, I had no idea what that meant, so when I checked out their website I was amazed that so many people were taking up the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I’d already written a manuscript, of about 68,000 words, and that had taken a whole year to do. So how in the world did people manage to write a book in a month?
The idea was crazy, but strangely alluring. So, I did what any person already halfway through another manuscript and up to their ears in coursework would do: I decided to give it a go (this was mid-october, and NaNoWriMo takes place in November- talk about spur of the moment!)
I had a vague plot in my head, about a young wizard who would have to turn detective, and a name. And that’s it. When November 1st hit, I wasn’t even sure I was going to get even 500 words done, because as luck would have it, I had a family gathering to attend that day. However, the drive up there would take a few hours, and as I was a passenger, I took my laptop with me. And I started typing.
By the time we arrived, I’d finished the first chapter and completed my target word count for the day. I’d done it- I’d made a start, a good start, and now all I had to do was do the same the next day, and then the next until I had 50,000 words. At the end of day 17, I achieved the 50,000 word goal. I had a book, and it had only taken a few weeks of hard work.
What’s more, when I read the draft back a month or so later, after my ‘cool down’ period, I actually found that the quality of the writing for a first draft was much better than when I’d taken my time with my other manuscript. I realised for the first time that having a deadline and forcing myself to do the work quickly actually helped to focus my ideas and make the plot more coherent.
I’ve now completed NaNoWriMo five years in a row, and reduced the amount of time it took nearly every year. The second year was 13 days, the third, only eight, the fourth, seven (and that year I was on such a writing high that I actually started another book in November, though I didn’t complete it until mid-December) and the fifth year was also seven days. Now, that’s not to say it was easy. With the seven and eight day ones, I was writing for 2.5-3 hours three times a day, usually getting up at six and going to bed no earlier than 11.
I was exhausted, but the quality of my drafts when I went back through to edit them after a month or two had passed meant that editing was a pleasant experience that I could enjoy, rather than saying ‘what is this rubbish?’ and hanging my head in despair.
So, for anyone wondering about NaNoWriMo, I’d say if you can set aside the time (and if you’re busy, you will have to fight to make that time – I’ve now learnt to book a week or two off work in November just so I can take part) then it’s definitely worth it. Even if you don’t finish by the end of the month, you’re sure to have made a decent start. And who knows, that might be just the help you need.