This is the story of how I surprised myself by writing 50,000 words of a novel in less than 30 days, and why I think everyone with even a passing interest in creative writing should give it a try at least once.
I fell in love with writing as a child and even though it’s always been an on-off relationship, with life, work and family often coming between us, you never forget your first love and I always knew we would be reunited again some day.
Although I’ve always kept up a long-distance correspondance by writing lots of songs and the very occasional blog, it’s fair to say it has been quite a few years since I really set my mind to writing anything substantial.
That all changed a few weeks ago when I felt the old desire return, initially with a few short story ideas, and then I stumbled across something called NaNoWriMo and knew the timing was perfect to start from scratch on my failed novel – last abandoned a number of years ago with a wordcount of over 35,000. For the unitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. To take part in NaNoWriMo you need only commit to the idea of writing 50,000 words of your first draft before the end of November. The use of the word ‘only’ being slightly misleading in this instance, as the reality means writing an average of 1667 words EVERY SINGLE DAY for thirty days.
I have a busy day job, a family and I’m a member of a cover band so time is not something I have an abundance of, but never one to shy away from a challenge I approached the task with as much gusto as possible. Whilst I wasn’t particularly confident of being able to reach the full target, I simply treated it as an excuse to get as many words written as possible, to get back in to the habit of writing every day and to kick-start my attempt to write a novel.
I passed the 50,000 mark on November 24th with 6 days to spare and it felt great. Not only because I had reached an arbitrary goal set by NaNoWriMo, but because I had re-engaged with writing again and found my passion for creating characters and worlds for them to exist in. I also found that I still hadn’t reached the end of my story, but having come so far I know I will keep going until I reach the conclusion.
Everyone works differently but for me I think there were a few factors that contributed to my success.
Write every day
Firstly, even on the days where I barely had half an hour to spare I wrote something, anything as long as I made a tiny dent on my wordcount. I think the most pathetic daily wordcount was around the 500 word mark, but it still meant that I wouldn’t have a little zero next to that date and that my novel was just that little bit closer to being finished.
Turn off the inner editor
Ok, so I know that it has become a writing cliche, but that’s for a reason. I realised that when it comes to the first draft, all that really matters is getting to the end of the story – just getting it all out. That means not stopping to finesse phrasing or grammar and not letting a little thing like a gaping plot hole slow you up either. For me, this meant skipping an entire chapter early on because although I knew the character had to get from point A to point B, I had no idea how he would get there and didn’t have the time to sit around waiting for inspiration. I simply jumped to the next scene and motored on – that will need taking care of when I begin draft 2 and the editing process.
Again, seems obvious, but if you are not going to try to have fun when doing something as silly as trying to write 50,000 words in a month, then don’t bother attempting it at all. I found that the more I kept writing, the more life my characters took on until some scenes of the book just flowed – seemingly with very little input from me. Hours just flew by and all the time I was creating a story across lots of pages that didn’t exist before November 1st.
Before I started NaNoWriMo, my best case scenario was perhaps reaching 20-25,000 words before December and I would still be very satisfied with that. And that’s the best thing about trying something like this – whether you reach 5,000 or 50,000 words, you will have produced something tangible that wasn’t there before. You will have got back in touch with that wild side of your imagination that seems to become harder to reach as we grow older and more self-conscious, and you never know – you may even end up with a finished novel that you can release in to the world to entertain and inspire others.
So, in short, I will definitely be signing up for NaNoWrimo next year – who’s with me?
You can check out my NaNoWrimo profile here, which includes a synopsis and excerpt from my novel ‘Let Sleeping Gods Lie’.
I would love to hear from others that have found other ways to kick start their creative writing projects or have other NaNoWriMo experiences to share. What’s your story?