I’m going to start this new blog off by wishing good luck today to everyone beginning the NaNoWriMo challenge. For those who haven’t heard of it, the goal is to write a fifty-thousand word novel from scratch during the thirty days of November. That equates to writing 1,667 words every day of the month. That might not sound like a lot to write on a regular basis but achieving it day-in, day-out for the full thirty days is a test.
My own novel, “CHRONOS”, began as a NaNoWriMo project two years ago, in November 2013. Prior to that I had never tried to write a full-length story before. In fact I hadn’t written any fiction since I was at school, and then nothing longer than a couple of thousand words. I saw NaNoWriMo was an opportunity to test my creative powers.
As I started the challenge, I had a clear idea of the overall theme for my story, what the opening chapter was and who the main characters were. What I didn’t know was how it would end! I simply started writing, trusting that I could keep one or two steps ahead in the plotting process as I went along.
I also didn’t have a title. For about eight months I simply called it “UNN” (Untitled November Novel). I spent zero time thinking about names for the novel back in November 2013, trusting that a suitable name would become apparent as I continued to work on the novel.
And that really is the key advice I can give to anyone undertaking the challenge for the first time - don’t allow yourself to become stuck. Always find some way of moving forward. Put a placeholder in to mark things that you will need to return to (I use the string “TODO:” to insert action items into my text as I’m writing).
As you get further into the writing, it’s very tempting to go back and revise what you’ve already written. My advice is resist this urge. If you start polishing the text, trying to make it perfect, you will find your daily word count start to plummet. There will be plenty of time to refine the text after you’ve written the first draft, but you should get that first draft complete first!
There are days when inspiration runs low. The only solution is to keep grinding away, trusting that ideas will come eventually. Just keep writing. Put one word down after another until you reach your daily target.
It also helps to make use of cloud tools such as Evernote and Dropbox to make your writing available to you wherever you are, and whatever device you are using. You never know where inspiration might strike and you want to be prepared for being able to capture the ideas while they are still fresh in your head.
After I completed my first draft in November 2013, I locked the manuscript away. It wasn’t until Easter 2014 that I allowed myself to go back and review what I had written. That allowed me to forget much of the pain of writing the first draft, and detach myself from particular passages that I had worked hard and long on. That allowed me to be ruthless in cutting out pieces of the story that weren’t working.
Very little of that first draft remains in the finalised version of “CHRONOS” - I’d probably estimate that about ten percent of the text remains unchanged since the first version. However without that first draft, I would never have had a base to work from that would eventually allow me to publish two years later.
NaNoWriMo is challenging but if you take it seriously it is very rewarding. Everyone should try it at least once in their life.