NaNoWriMo winner – writing a novel in a month

Writers from the Cornwall Wrimos sitting around a table in a coffee shop with laptops and coffee

I am a NaNo Winner 2018. To many of you that will mean nothing, but to some of my fellow writers it will signify one hell of an achievement.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge that takes place every November, in which writers around the world try to write 50,000 words of their novel. Some of us want to eventually get published, for others it’s a chance to focus on their passion for a solid month alongside like-minded people. For me, it was a bit of both.

I’ve been writing with a view to being published since I was 12. In that time my writing has naturally developed and evolved. When I look back at the stories I wrote after school in my teenage bedroom I cringe at the numerous cliches and plot holes, but there is a beautiful naivety to those early forays. When I went to university I thought, finally this is it. I have the time and space to write, and will finally sit down and write that best-selling novel that’s been lurking inside, just waiting for the right moment to burst out into the world. But with basketball club and dance club and jui jitsu and so many nights out in the Students’ Union and lie-ins til lunchtime there was actually very little time to sit down and write. Because that really is the main part of it: getting your bum in that chair and putting words onto paper. And, as a master of procrastination, this is something I’m not very good at.

Third time lucky

This year was my third attempt at NaNoWriMo. Last November I reached 7,000 words and in 2015 I managed even less. I believe that every word written is an achievement, and whether you reach the 50k goal or not you should be proud of yourself for what you have managed to write. However, 50,000 words is a solid amount to get you well on the way to completing a whole novel, and I desperately wanted to reach the target word count to finally get somewhere with one of my writing projects.

So what made the difference this year? In one word: community. Unlike my previous two attempts, this year I joined a local NaNoWriMo group, the Cornwall Wrimos (see pic). With a Facebook group where we shared our progress and offered each other support, and weekly write-ins in nearby Truro, having that community made the challenge so much more enjoyable. Writing can feel a very solitary activity, so talking to other writers undertaking the same journey and sharing the experience with them gave me the impetus to keep on writing through the creative dry patches.

Trying to write every day also really helped. Some days I was on a roll and managed to write around 2,500 words. On the days where I got home from work and had to wolf down dinner before heading out to a dance class, I managed less than the target daily word count, but still managed to keep the momentum going. Moving house during the last week of November didn’t make things easy, but thanks to a super supportive boyfriend who did a lot of the ferrying boxes to and fro I managed to squeeze in some time to write.

Advice for future Wrimos

If I had to condense my advice to future NaNoWriMo participants into three words they would be this: support, continuity, discipline. Support – from a community of fellow writers but also from your family and friends. An understanding partner who is willing to do more than their share of the cooking and chores for the month in order to give you time to write deserves a huge thank you (and lots of chocolate), and may be one of the main reasons you succeed. Continuity – different writing habits work best for different people, but for me building continuity into my writing practice and trying to write every day ensured I was always making progress and didn’t feel overwhelmed by the remaining word count in the final few days. Discipline – at the end of the day if you don’t have the self-discipline to get your butt in that chair and write it’s never going to happen. Easier said than done, I know, especially when you’ve been working in an office all day and the last thing you feel like doing is spending several more hours glued to a computer screen instead of relaxing on the couch or with your family.

A little disclaimer: I work not far from where I live, I don’t have children or caring responsibilities and I’m in reasonably good health. Attempting to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month is a significant undertaking for anyone, but I can appreciate how much more of a challenge it must be for people who have a family or relatives to look after, a long commute or health problems. And of course your job can have a huge impact on your energy levels and time to write in the evenings, especially if you end up bringing work home.

To those of you who hit the 50k mark this NaNoWriMo, congratulations! To those of you who took part but didn’t reach that, congratulations are also due. However much you wrote, that is an achievement worth celebrating, especially if it has helped you develop your writing or a creative project. We should all be proud of ourselves. We are writing ninjas.

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NaNoWriMo – bitten off more than I can chew?

So at the start of this month I signed up to do NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Naturally, the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month somewhat fazed me, but I thought if I put my back into it I could give it a good crack. The fact that I was also rehearsing for a show and that show week was in the middle of that didn’t seem to enter my mind at the time. Now, however, it most definitely is, as is the fact that I have just started working back in my old office for a few weeks, limiting my writing time for the final sprint. Out of a goal of 50,000 words, my current word count is: 2,918. Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

The answer is: probably yes. Will I make it to 50,000 words? Probably no. But according to the lovely folk at NaNoWriMo: “If it’s really not looking possible for you to hit that elusive 50k target, then why not set yourself an achievable goal for the end of the month and work towards that instead? We all know Real Life can get in the way sometimes, but even writing a little every day can make a big difference.”

Despite signing up to NaNoWriMo on the 2nd November, I didn’t actually write a word until two days ago. Up to that point I was still planning! Obviously the idea is to plan before the start of November so once the month starts you can write away to your heart’s content, but I was a little late to the party. Now I am cracking on with the writing, like most writers I’m finding it difficult to fit my writing time into the day. The bookbaby blog has some great advice on time management for writers and a few tips for setting deadlines that I’m going to use from now on to help me rattle off that first draft. One of the most crucial tips for me is to focus on phase one first. I’m guilty of constantly thinking ahead, looking to the future, the next step, the finished product, rather than focusing on the here and now, and not just in my writing!

To all you fellow NaNoWriMos, I salute you! Whether you’re on track for the 50k target, have flown past it already, or, like me, have set your own smaller goal (I’m going for 10,000), I admire your effort, your persistence, your tenacity and your desire to tell stories. Keep on writing!