I’ve been saying I want to write a book for most of my life. I love writing and I’ve made a career out of it, but despite having almost a decade of journalism experience under my belt, I had yet to sit and write a novel-length piece of fiction. That was until now.
Earlier in 2015 I sat down and penned a 80k+ word memoir, which was a massive step forward for me. I had a set writing routine and I managed to complete the first draft in under two months. The work of fiction, however, still eluded me. Why? Well, the prospect of facing a blank page and perhaps discovering I suck petrified me. I also kept hoping that the perfect idea for a novel would just come to me one day, so I waited. And waited. And waited (spoiler alert: the perfect idea never came).
That was until October when I decided I was going to commit to taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo. The gist of it is you have to write a 50k word piece of fiction in a month. I had a kernel of an idea which wasn’t fully developed, but I decided to go for it anyway. After all, I had tried the whole ‘I’m going to wait until I have the best idea on the planet’ and it simply didn’t work, so it was time to sit, face the page and get on with it.
The verdict? I LOVED the experience and I didn’t want November to end. Here’s my guide to the good, the bad and the beautiful of my NaNoWriMo experience.
Getting into a routine
In order to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo you have to write 50k words by the 30th of November, which means you’re forced into a daily writing routine. This is definitely a big part of why the whole concept is a success.
Being forced to face the blank page
NaNoWriMo encourages you to get the words on the page first and worry about quality during the editing process post-November. This means that you’re given free license to just write and write and write. You’re not held back by the ‘fear’ of writing something rubbish. It’s a given that your first draft will be a bit crappy!
Knowing that it’s okay for the first draft to suck
Speaking of the first draft, I have to confess that I always assumed that famous authors wrote outstandingly well from the get go. However, once I started NaNoWriMo and did a bit of research I realised that most people hate their first drafts. But the consensus is that it’s fine not to be enamoured with the first draft, and that gave me the freedom to write now and edit later.
Days when words were like lead bricks
It happens to the best of us – no matter how long you sit and stare at the page, the words just won’t come. Couple that with a looming deadline and what you have is a stressed out writer! However, on the few days when I found it hard to write, I took a break and made up for it the next day.
Hating my novel on day 10
I started hating my novel after the first week, and apparently it’s fairly common! That’s the great thing about NaNoWriMo – if you’re facing a problem, you just log onto one of the many forum boards and talk about what’s bothering you. Soon enough you find out that you’re not alone with your problem and it spurs you on. Which brings me to my next point…
The community spirit
The thing I loved the most about NaNoWriMo was the community spirit. Not only do you have the amazing forums to keep you going, there are also weekly pep talks from published authors, virtual write-ins via YouTube, word sprints on Twitter, and meet-ups. You are surrounded (albeit virtually) by people who are all going through the same experience, and you will each other on to 50k words. It truly was an amazing feeling to be a part of it.
Crossing the finish line
I finally hit 50k words at around 7pm on November 30th. I validated my novel on the NaNoWriMo website and was greeted by a pre-recorded YouTube message of the organisers congratulating me, as well as a winner’s certificate. Yes, I cried tears of joy. This has been a very eventful year, and to be able to end it on a positive note in spite of it all feels bloody great!
Knowing that it’s only the beginning
NaNoWriMo showed me that yes, I can write fiction. Sure, I need a lot of practice, but I’ve made a start, which is the main thing. It’s inspired me to join a writing critique group and continue working at it. I WILL have a novel published some day, and it’s great to finally be taking steps in the right direction. I have NaNoWriMo to thank for that.
50k words of my first novel are now down on paper. I’m giving myself a bit of a break as I’m off to Munich on Sunday, but once I’m back I plan on writing the rest of it. I’ll then set it aside and start work on my second novel, the idea of which is already forming in the back of my head somewhere. I want to leave my NaNoWriMo novel to ‘settle’ for a while before editing it, so I’m hoping to start working on the second draft in February 2016.
As I mentioned previously, I’m also going to join a writing critique group to help me hone my skills. I also plan on making sure that I continue my daily writing habit – even if I only get 1000 words down a day, I’ll have whole novels in no time!
So if you’re an aspiring author, I really recommend you think about taking part next year. They also organise smaller events throughout the year; log onto the NaNoWriMo website for more information.