National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has been going for 10 years now, and is used by writers to kick-start their writing activity. Starting at the beginning of November, participants are encouraged to write a whole novel of 50,000 words by the end of the month. That's a daily target of 1,667 words, which is no mean feat! The Post Team caught up with a few researchers who attempted the task this year, to see how they got on.
Post Team: How did you first hear about NaNoWriMo?
Runescribe: It would have been when I came to university a few years ago and started to get into online journalling and reading the journals of my new university friends.
Sho: There used to be a BBC site, related to the DNA network (or I'd never have found it) called Get Writing. I guess it would have been around October 2003 that I first saw people there discussing their NaNo and if they had signed up and so on. At the time I was trying to get my act together to write a novel that I've had kicking around in my head for yonks, and mostly writing fanfic as a way of gently getting into it. And so I signed up!
Beatrice: I can't honestly remember, but then, I'm finding a lot of that these days. What was the question again?
Post Team: Is this your first time attempting it? Tell me about previous attempts, or why did you go for it this time?
Runescribe: This is my first time, and I think I went for it because I didn't think I had anything to lose and a great deal to gain. If I failed, I'd be no worse off than I was already. And if I succeeded, I'd have done satisfying creative work for a month and, for the icing on the cake, written a book.
Sho: Actually this is my 3rd time. The first was in 2003 and I'd done around 63,000 words by 21st November (I know the exact number because I keep an Excel sheet with targets, diagrams, how many words I have to write to catch up...) The novel I wrote wasn't the one I planned to write, but I quite like it and one day I will slap it into shape and try it on Mills and Boon, or some-such.
In 2007 I had my first go at a teenage-type-novel. But November is our hot season at work, I was overworked, overstressed and it failed after a week or so at about 17,000 words. The will was there but nothing came. And I hadn't written another word since until...
2009. Gruesome #1 likes to read in German. I want her to read in English. So I got her some 'bilingual' books, which are in German but feature an Irish girl who comes over on exchange. In reality there is very little English in it but it planted the seed of an idea. Now, however, she's reading the Angus, Thongs... series, teenage stuff. I thought I'd have a stab at teenage, with a bit of German thrown in.
Beatrice: First attempt. I write lots of short articles and poetry, but had never considered trying anything more substantial. But I so enjoyed the challenges posed by the Stretcher competition earlier this year, that I was drawn to the idea of a fresh challenge. I only managed about 17,000 words in the end, but that's better than no words.
Post Team: What was the hardest part? And what did you find easy?
Runescribe: The daily word count was surprisingly easy to write in a day but I didn't actually write every day. I wrote 3,000 words several times, and didn't find it much of a strain. One of my major problems was that I didn't have any plot mapped out before I started. I sat down at one in the morning on the 2nd November and started typing without so much as a setting in mind, which is why my first three paragraphs contradict each other. It made the second half of the novel especially difficult, because I had all these story threads that I somehow needed to weave into a plot and no idea what I was doing. The last 10,000 became easy, because I'd finally figured out where it was all going.
Sho: The hardest part came at about 25,000 and again at 45,000 words. I just had nothing to say. I was having a stressful time with the Gruesomes and 3 days had a word count of 0. The easy bit... making the Excel sheet and filling in the numbers.
Beatrice: The hardest part was finding enough time to write, especially at weekends. I really needed to have planned and scheduled some time and facility for writing then. I was also using the story as a kind of therapy to work through some personal issues, and that was emotionally quite tough. The easy bit was checking the word count every 10 minutes or so!
Post Team: How would you describe your novel?
Runescribe: Unfinished. On rereading, I've found a major fight scene just missing, because I didn't know how to write it when I got there, so I skipped on to the next scene that I did know how to write. So that needs putting in. And while the plot has reached an end, it's full of holes and the end doesn't really make sense emotionally, so there needs to be a bunch of scenes added to fix that.
Sho: Teen, probably (in teen terms) historical (set in 1982) family-drama. It's all written from the POV (but not in 1st person) of the 16 year old girl who is about to take her O-levels when 2 family dramas come at the same time. There's a lot about make-up, clothes and body conscious musings.
Beatrice: My aim was to produce some intelligent chick-lit, so it deals with a struggling relationship. I added in a dog, whose thoughts the reader can hear, as a kind of gimmick. The dog was a lot of fun, and I made him speak in that sort of lolcats/ I Can Haz Cheezburger style textish.
Post Team: Are you planning to edit it in the future?
Runescribe: Definitely. I'm not sure this is a publishable work, but even if it doesn't turn out to have that potential, I have a whole book here. If it isn't good enough to publish, then editing it will make me learn the skills necessary to edit something that is.
Sho: Yes. In January.
Beatrice: I need to finish it first!
Post Team: Would you do NaNo again, and would you recommend it to a friend?
Runescribe: I'll do NaNo again, because it's an easy way to write a book. A month is short enough to keep going for, especially with all the support you get from everyone else who's doing it and the NaNo organisation itself. And I'd recommend it to writerly friends for the same reason, although I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone who didn't already have an interest in creative writing.
Sho: Yes, I hope that I'll have a go next year, or maybe the year after if I really make a go of editing this one. If you like to write, but never know when to start, or what to write, or just need a reason to give it a go I would recommend it to anyone. There is also a Young NaNo with a smaller word target (but I'd have to check the details). I think my daughter might try that sometime.
Beatrice: I thoroughly enjoyed having a bash at it, and I'd like to think that one year I'd actually complete the task. The support from local groups and online is terrific, and I'd definitely make an effort to go to some of the collective write-ins next time.
Post Team: What did you learn from the experience?
Runescribe: That I'm not as lazy as I frequently think I am. I can work just fine, it's sleep patterns that make my life difficult. I am capable of writing 50,058 words in one month. And I am capable of writing an entire book, one that mostly makes sense and has reasonably convincing characters, even if I don't have a plan when I start.
I know that I am someone who can write books, because I've just done it. And that knowledge is worth more to me than anything else I could have done for those two hours a day. An author is a person of worth, and I am an author now. Unpublished as yet, but an author none the less.
Sho: That 1,667 words a day is doable if you can type. And that, it's true. Everyone has a book in them.
Beatrice: That you don't always have to write by starting at the beginning and working chronologically to the end. I found it easier to write particular scenes as they occurred to me, and I'll worry about how they all fit together at a later date.
Post Team: Thank you so much for answering our questions, and the very best of luck with your future writing endeavours. When one of you wins the Booker prize we want a signed copy for the office!