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National Novel Writing Month

As I write this, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is well underway with a goal of writing 50,000 words of a novel’s first draft by the end of the month. That’s 1667 words a day!


NaNoWriMo began in 1999 as a challenge to inspire people to begin writing. People from all walks of life could start the month as builders, accountants, and nurses, and finish the month as novelists. NaNoWriMo has now become a US-based non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting writing fluency and education. Its website (www.nanwrimo.org) tracks words for writers like Fitbit steps and contains a wealth of free resources to help writers get through the challenge. The organisation also runs writing events across the world. In 2020, over half a million people took part in the official NaNoWriMo programme. Hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. And alongside, there are thousands of self-published novels.


Of course, you don’t need to register officially to complete the challenge. Last year, I participated inspired only by the idea of completing the word count. The challenge excited me. I’d finished my first novel and was sending it out to agents with little response. It was getting depressing. I thought it’d never get published, it just wasn’t meant to be. So, I needed to start another novel and get the first one out of my system.


I began with a plan. Writing a novel in a month is a lot easier if you know where you’re going with it (unlike my first novel, which grew organically over a couple of years). I downloaded a free guide to planning your novel (www.prowritingaid.com/en/Landing/Ebook2) and a couple of weeks before the challenge started, I wrote an outline. I created my characters, choose the settings, and plotted out a story, making sure I had a firm grasp of the beginning, middle, and end. On the 1st of November, I started writing.


Some days the words just wouldn’t come, and some days I could have written all night. On the tough days, I looked back at my novel plan. It put me on course. And if I was struggling with a particular section, I used my plan to jump forward and write another. A novel doesn’t have to be written linearly.


It surprised me how easily I could find the necessary time in my day to write with a full-time job and three-year-old to look after. The pandemic was raging, so I didn’t have the daily commute, but I'd often used my commute for writing. Instead, I maintained the discipline of rising early, and wrote. Instead of lazing in front of the TV in the evening, I put myself in front of my laptop. When my son napped at the weekends, I wrote hundreds of words. And when I climbed into bed on the 30th November, I’d triumphantly completed my 50,000 words.


As a draft, it was pretty rough. I wouldn’t dare show it to anyone. I call it draft zero. It was the bare bones of a novel, a stream of consciousness. But since completing the draft, I’ve been editing it to make it shine. I’ve changed the tense from past to present. I’ve added new characters and killed some off. Names have changed, subplots added, and timelines tightened. But it’s still the same novel.


I’m proud of what I achieved. It was a significant challenge and I recommend it to any writer. It showed me my creativity works amazingly under pressure, I can find time to write every day, even though that time is shorter some days than others, and I should just get something on paper and not worry about its quality because it can be fixed later. Will I do it again in the future? Yes, I think so. In the meantime, I’ve got to finish polishing the one from last year. I wish I could have maintained the discipline I had last November and spent as much time per day developing my novel as I spent on draft zero. But I've set myself a new challenge, and I'll have this novel finished and sent off to agents ahead of NaNoWriMo 2022.


If you embarked on National Novel Writing Month this year, well done. Celebrate. And if you’ve thought about it, but never got round to doing it, my advice is just do it. You can write a novel, memoir, script, poetry collection or non-fiction book in a month—any month. Why wait until November? Good luck.

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