*Deep breath to allow it to sink in*
I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in a wave of enthusiasm, towards the end of October. I’d first come across the idea a few years ago, and had toyed with the idea of doing it ever since. “Oh, but I don’t know what I’ll write about,” I told myself. Or “I just don’t have time this year.” Or, “I’ll do it next year, when I’ve had time to plan my novel”. Funny how many entirely valid excuses I can come up with to avoid something I’m scared about doing!
This year, once again I found myself thinking that I should really get around to doing some pre-planning for a novel, so that I could finally take part in NaNoWriMo next year. However, as October marched on, and I started seeing more and more of a buzz build up on Twitter about it, I started wondering: why not just do it? Forget exhaustive pre-planning, just dive in and see how it goes? So, I signed up. I told myself it didn’t matter if I got a few hundred words in, or even a few thousand words in, realised what a completely unrealistic goal I’d set for myself, and gave up. I’d spent so long thinking about writing, and talking about how much I wanted to write, and doing everything except actually writing, that I was starting to annoy myself. So, I told myself, put up or shut up. If it all went horribly wrong, I reasoned, at least I’d have a better idea of what I was getting into next time around, and have a bit more warning to plan accordingly.
I fully expected to fail at this, in my first year. I got a few thousand words in, and it seemed to be going ok. I got a few thousand more words in, and I started to worry I was running out of plot. But somewhere around the end of Week 2 and the start of Week 3, it really started to flow. Words were just pouring out faster than I could get them down, and I started to feel like maybe, just maybe, I might actually finish this.
On Friday night, I sat down at my PC. My novel at that point clocked in at around 48k words. By midnight, I’d shot past the 50k goal and was up to 52k. My story still wasn’t finished, so I leapt (ok, staggered and groaned) out of bed on Saturday morning, bright and early (about 10.30 am), and wrote until the story as I’d seen it was finished. My final word count came to 56,703 words.
I don’t really like bragging – I tend towards self-deprecation – but here it is: I am immensely proud of myself for having done this. The novel I’ve written isn’t very good, to say the least. It’s badly paced, the plot is a cliché, my characters are wooden – but this is more creative writing than I’ve ever done. I’ve wanted to write for years, but I haven’t got anything substantial down on paper since I left school. For the last ten years, I’ve wanted to write. I’ve talked to people about that being a goal, and then had to sheepishly admit that I’ve never actually written anything. Now, when I talk to people about writing, if they ask what I’ve written lately, I can hold my head up high and declare that I’ve just finished my first novel! They don’t have to know it’s a bad novel…
A couple of things I learned in the process:
- NaNoWriMo was simultaneously much easier and much harder than I thought it’d be. Easier because once I had the story in my head, parts of it almost wrote itself – all I did was transcribe. Harder because the bits of the story I didn’t have clear in my head to begin with stubbornly refused to become apparent when I sat down to type. There were days when I bashed off 2,000 words in an hour without breaking sweat; and days when I barely scraped my way to my 1,667 daily word target, and every word felt like I’d had to chisel it into the rock face with my fingernails.
- Telling as many people as possible what I was doing really helped with the motivation. Every time I spoke to one of my sisters, the first thing they asked was “So, how’s the novel coming?” Having to admit that actually, it wasn’t, was a large part of what stopped me giving up the first time I hit a difficult patch.
- You know what else helps with motivation? Stars! I printed out a calendar at the start of the month, stuck it to the wall by my bed, and gave myself a shiny star for every day where I made or exceeded my word target. Having a visual reminder like that facing me every day really helped keep me going.
- All that reading really has paid off. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve read enough good books and enough bad books that I flatter myself that I know what works in a narrative and what doesn’t. I know my novel is terrible; I knew that as I was writing it. Crucially, though, I know why it’s terrible. I know what bits of it don’t work, because they’re the bits that would make me groan as I read it. This gives me confidence that when I come to edit it in January (I’d like to leave it to “settle” for a while before I come back to do some serious editing), I’ll hopefully be able to wrangle it into something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show people.
I never expected to have a brilliant, finished, readable novel by the end of this month. In fact, I didn’t expect to have anything more than a few pages and an overwhelming sense of failure. But what I have now is a first draft. I have the skeleton of what might, some day, be a not completely terrible novel. Given that this is the first time I’ve ever attempted something like this, I think that’s pretty good.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and start planning my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel!