I just finished NaNoWriMo this afternoon, so I’m quite chuffed.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the NaNoWriMo challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Different people have different approaches to this. Some people plan the whole plot out in the preceding months. Some gather inspirational material for a few weeks before the start date. Others are like me and decide to join at the last minute with a very bare outline of a plot (I could have written mine down in about 20 words.)
I decided to write romantic fiction because it seemed like the lazy option. It was contemporary, so I could use all real-life locations. No research was required. I figured out my three main characters pretty much straight away and the supporting ones more or less wrote themselves. I think the downside of this method was that the story doesn’t feel all that imaginative or satisfying to me. Some of the individual events are quite fun, but a lot of it felt quite mundane.
While writing, I began to admit that I actually like romantic fiction. I don’t usually “count” romantic fiction, particularly the ones in the pink shiny covers, when asked what I like to read. But my favourite novels are Catherine Fox’s, one of which at least is pure romantic fiction. I re-read Leila Aboulela’s The Translator with great joy: it’s at the literary end, but definitely a love story. I talked on Facebook about my devastation at the end of Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner – I loved all her novels till she wrote an ending I couldn’t accept! The truth is, I find a good romantic novel rather satisfying. I’m often to be found hanging around Joanna Trollope in the fiction section, or Elizabeth Berg. I definitely no longer read Mills and Boon, but I found while writing that the number of Mills and Boons I pinched from my mum’s bedroom during my teenage years meant that I’m very au fait with the genre conventions.
At 50,000 words, my novel is nowhere near finished. I have at least two major, major plot events to come – I think I’d probably be looking at about 90,000 for the whole thing. I’m quite tempted to keep writing, but not sure I can do it without the target. Especially given that I now think I have a better idea for a novel – one that I’m quite keen to start planning. Even if it doesn’t get written till next year’s NaNo.
Back when I signed up, I wrote down my pros and cons, so now to see which of those came true:
1) I have never done it before
2) It seems unlikely that I’ll have a job by November, so I should have some time
These were pretty good reasons. If I was ever going to do it, now was the time to do it.
3) I am (possibly unwisely) reasonably confident that I could get to that number of words, having written pretty major stuff before, PhD thesis and suchlike. Although I don’t know whether I can possibly write that much fiction.
4) I’m getting used to blasting out poems and articles using the just-get-your-bum-in-the-chair method. It would be interesting to see whether that works for longer stuff.
When I kept up with the words, it wasn’t difficult to get to the daily target or beyond. 1667 words is about an hour and a quarter for me. When I did manage to get my bum in the chair, the words got done. The problems occurred when for some reason I couldn’t get my writing time early in the day. Then it became much more difficult to sit down to it. The routine was definitely helpful.
5) Fun, meeting people and all that good stuff.
Not so much. I was a total hermit, went to no write-ins, never stuck my head in the forums and generally just sat down and did it. I stopped my daily wordcount spreadsheet after I lost some words in an unfortunate saving accident and didn’t want to admit that my wordcount that day was negative.
1) I literally have no novel outline beyond two one-line ideas that keep bouncing around my head.
2) It’s now well into October so I would really have to get on with it if I was going to write an outline.
This was actually an issue. I am not a write-to-a-plan person but I do think that an outline of, say, a page would have made a big difference. I struggled with the first 8000 words and from the 30-40k point because I didn’t really know what was happening (beyond 40k I didn’t know either but it was completely clear that the story was not going to finish at 50k, so I didn’t worry as much about where it was going in the knowledge that I wouldn’t necessarily have to encounter all of it.)
3) I really don’t think it would improve my job-hunting focus any! Also, it would take some focus away from other creative activities that I’d like to pursue.
I did put in some job applications, meet my mentor and go to a career transitions workshop, so although it probably took a wee bit of a hit, I don’t think it was a disaster. It did hurt my other writing a bit: I didn’t submit to my online writing group for 2 weeks – that’s my first non-submissions since it started in July. I’m looking forward to getting back to my poetry – at the moment I’m only writing poems on a Thursday afternoon in my writing group.
4) I hate drafting on the computer, I’m a longhand-then-type person, but I’d want to write on the computer for the wordcount.
I’m still not a fan. I guess for first drafts it is bearable.
5) Level of insanity seem in other NaNoWriMoers. Just kidding, my lovely friends and family!
It did have some impact on my general organisation – I had to consciously get control of food and laundry after the first couple of weeks! I can see how, if I was working, it would totally take over my free time. In future years I may have to plan ahead, fill the freezer and clear the diary!
So yes, I am thinking of doing it again in future years. On the good days, it was some of the best fun I’ve had in ages. At no point did I find it insanely difficult, just a wee bit of a grind at times. It has really expanded my horizons of what I think I might be able to do in the long term. When I find a story that actually has something to it…