On 30 October this year I heard for the first time about Nanowrimo (National November Writing Month – www.nanowrimo.org ), an international novel writing programme, the aim of which is to complete a novel (50,000 words or more) in a month. ‘A crazy idea,’ I thought. On 31 October I thought again. ‘Why not? What have I got to lose?‘ On 1 November I (and 167,000 others) decided to go in for it. Almost immediately I received a reply welcoming me and promising me advice and pep talks throughout the month. So that was that. I had to start writing.
What makes someone go in for a competition like this? My answer is that I am a slow writer, drafting and re-drafting many times and allowing details of the plot to impede progress and erode motivation. The last novel took 25 years to write, mainly because I couldn‘t decide how to end it, so I was determined to finish the new one more speedily. Even so, after a year I had only reached chapter 4. So the idea of writing a novel in a month appealed to me. Cheating slightly, I decided to build on the 20,000 words already written, and try to complete it by 30 November.
Readers, I did it! At 5pm on 30 November I sent off my novel, and had an almost instant reply from the automatic word counter that I had written 50,632 words. It was a real boost; with the story completed, I can now concentrate on building up some of the characters, spicing up the descriptions, and improving the quality of the writing.
There are a few things to bear in mind if you are tempted to go in for Nanowrimo 2010. First, and most important, the exercise is about quantity not quality. If you are the sort of writer who cannot move on until you are sure that the sentence you have just written is the best you can possibly write, then don’t do it. As the website makes clear, the exercise is about enthusiasm and perseverance, not painstaking craft. If, on the other hand, you are a ditherer and procrastinator like me, then it may help you to make decisions and get on with the story. You may also find that the externally imposed deadline makes you more disciplined about your writing. I wrote every day, watched very little television, had virtually no social life, and was able to say to family and friends who wanted more of my time “I can’t stop now, I have a novel to finish,” an excuse that had worn thin over the 25 years of the last one.
Nanowrimo started in a small way in the United States ten years ago, and is now international. If you sign up you will receive lots of encouraging emails, some useful tips, and you can join a regional group although for me the deadline itself was sufficient motivation. It is free of charge, although you are asked to make a donation.
In 2009 there were over 167,000 participants, and more than 32,000 winners (i.e. people who had completed 50,000 words.) There is, incidentally, no prize, just electronic cheering and a downloadable certificate.
I find editing much more enjoyable than structuring and plotting, so now I have a complete but very rough draft to work on over the next few months, and I have given myself a deadline of Easter 2010 to complete it. It remains to be seen whether my personal deadline is as effective as the Nanowrimo one!
Judith Taylor, WritersBlock