Sunday, 6 November 2011


November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo and all over the world thousands of people are working furiously on their novels. I signed up for what the website describes as ‘thirty days and nights of literary abandon’ in which the aim is to write 50,000 words – that’s 1,667 words a day – by midnight on November 30.
This is not the first time I’ve joined in the world-wide writing frenzy. I tried and failed miserably last year – and the year before – and swore I’d never try again.

So, why did I sign up yet again and what has changed this time? Well, a couple of things have made a difference. Partly, it is down to that word ‘abandon’. In previous years I’ve found it impossible to squash my need to edit as I go along which meant, as a result of constant rewriting, I made pretty slow progress. Before I’d reached the half way point in the month I was so far behind on the word count I knew I’d never catch up. Besides, what I’d written was trite, unpublishable nonsense. 

This time round I’ve managed to abandon the inner editor who kept asking, “What’s the point of writing rubbish?” Instead, I began to look at the process as being a bit like ‘morning pages’ as recommended by Julia Cameron in her best-selling book The Artist’s Way. Designed to rediscover creativity, the rule was to start each day by writing three pages – in longhand. You didn’t edit, you didn’t read them back until months later, or even not at all. I tried it for a while and when I did look back on those stream-of-consciousness scribbles I found lots of little nuggets worth developing into poems and ideas for stories. Now, by pretending NaNoWriMo is an extended version of morning pages, written at anytime of the day or night I can keep going. I’ve also abandoned the notion I need to have long stretches of time – undisturbed time – in which to write. I can’t take time off work so I have to be prepared to grab at any spare minutes to add to the all-important word count.

The other, and I suspect major, part of why I’m convinced I’ll succeed this year is because I have a NaNoWriMo writing buddy. She emailed me the day before the month kicked off to say she’d seen I had signed up so decided to have a go as well, to kick start her long-planned novel. She nominated me as her writing buddy. We can encourage each other not to give up, to keep going when we think it’s all a waste of time. And we can check each other’s word count. She was a thousand words ahead of me when I last looked. I was going to shut down my computer for the night but her word count spurred me on to continue writing for another ten minutes, which turned into almost an hour. It’s not competitive in that I want to have a higher word count or reach the target before she does – it’s more a case of “if she can do it, then so can I”. So, thanks, Running Shoes, it’s great to be your writing buddy.  

Obviously there’s still a way to go before the end of the month and who knows what obstacles lie in wait. A sick son home from uni has rather slowed things down a little this weekend, but I’ll catch up.

When I started this year I didn’t really have a plot. I began to develop characters who, for the first couple of days wandered around aimlessly. They broke all the point of view rules, had banal conversations with each other or very long inner monologues, the purpose of which, I guess, was to inform the reader of what is going on in their world. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to make them do anything of interest and the temptation to give up was strong. Then, a new character appeared, sparking a variety of reactions from the other characters (some of whom – the really boring ones – will probably be quietly dropped now) and scenes started being played out.

There may be a certain lack of continuity and I’m still not entirely sure where the story is going – but I can sort all that out later. For now, I’m focussing on reaching the end of November with a 50,000 word novel. It may only be a skeleton with some of its bones still missing or connected at funny angles but it will make me glad I signed up again for NaNoWriMo’s month of literary abandon.


  1. Interesting. I've contemplated NaNoWriMo in the past but think I would founder on not being able to stop and shape/edit, as I usually do every few thousands words or so. I find I can't make progress with the story unless I do.

    Having said that, I'm a big fan of morning pages, great for getting you jump-started when you're stuck.

    Good luck to all doing NaNoWriMo.

  2. With you all the way on the reasoning behind doing NaNo, Mary, and the progress. This is my first time and already it's energising my creativity!

  3. A writing buddy is a great idea.....I have one and we e.mail (she lives in France)one another most days to report on word count, or lack of! On Sundays we list the daily output and it can look quite impressive to add up the words......all greatest good luck ....look forward to reading the book.....:)

  4. Interesting to hear how other NaNos are approaching this, Mary. Keep your sights set on that 50,000 target!

  5. I'm a NaNo newbie this year as well and I have to say I'm really enjoying it - so far! I can well imagine I'll hit a few troughs, but so far I've loved just being able to sit down and write. There is something glorious in being able to tell the carping little sod who lives inside my head and hoots derisively at my words - to just bu**er off! I know he'll be back with a vengeance at the end of this writing spree, but for now he's banished and that in itself is worth doing Nano for.

  6. I wish I'd joined at the beginning of the month too (if other things in life hadn't been getting in the way). You've really given me food for thought re just Getting On and Writing. Good luck with the word count!

  7. Thanks for comments, I'll report back!