In November 2013 I participated in my first ever NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s 30 days of intense novel writing. In the standard version of the competition, the aim is to write the first draft of a novel at a minimum of 50,000 words. There is also a Young Writer’s Program for the under-18s, who get a word count tailored to their individual writing speed abilities.
NaNo 2013 was a huge challenge for me. Prior to that, the longest piece of writing I’d ever produced was an 18,000-word dissertation to obtain my university qualifications, and that took me two years to research and write. Admittedly, that was its own challenge as my research was later assessed and marked by a group of PhD academics with expertise in the subject matter – the pressure was very much on me to produce quality writing with a strong basis in the research and writing of experts. In that process I was careful to schedule regular days of nothing, as well as social time. On the other hand, the NaNo month required me to produce an average of 1,667 words per day for 30 days and sometimes sleepless nights. Some days I managed to produce far more words than that; others, far less. There were days I was convinced I couldn’t make it and yet, in the final week, I managed to have my final word count verified at 50,255 words. I didn’t have the opportunity in NaNo to draw from the work of experts in developing my work, nor did I have the valuable mentor-student relationship in which my every paragraph was critiqued by top lecturers in my chosen field. NaNo involved laying bare my imagination and trying to take the ethereal, dream-inspired imagery lurking deep in my mind and trying to communicate it with a whole lot of words.
In many ways it was more than a writing competition. It was a confrontation with myself. I had to take my vague ideas of how nice it would be to write a novel and put them into action. I had to deliberately carve out time and ignore all of the entirely reasonable excuses that would stop me: I’m too busy, November’s a terribly hectic time of year, I have to talk to the family sometimes, my neighbourhood is too noisy, and my story idea is terrible and I hate it. In the end I decided I actually did very much love my story, flaws and all, and I enjoyed the writing process.
This year I will again be participating in NaNoWriMo. In 2013 I kept a daily blog journal of the NaNo experience (at sunriseoverswamps.wordpress.com). This year I plan to do a NaNo journal here at streamsdesolations.wordpress.com. Feel free to follow me on the journey!
There may be some aspiring writers reading this who, like me, need the occasional kick in the backside to get into writing. Maybe you need to be able to point to a finite time frame in which the spouse and kids must accept that if they’re not helping you develop your plot, they should probably avoid talking to you (unless it’s to offer coffee or remind you to eat and sleep). If that’s you, I want to encourage you to give NaNoWriMo a try. You might not hit 50,000 words – maybe you’ll write 2,000, or 5,000, even 10,000 – and that’s great! In the end, you’re only competing with yourself and choosing, for one gloriously high intensity month, to throw aside your self-criticising “inner editor” and just give it a go. Get that stream of consciousness storytelling out of your system and onto the page or the screen.
Another benefit of NaNoWriMo: it increased my sense of awe towards authors who do somehow survive the writing, editing, submissions and publication process. There’s a lot of work embodied between the covers of a novel. Even a novel that might seem like it’s not all that special. Being successfully creative is a lot of hard work!