My NaNoWriMo Experience

Those of you who read last month’s post will know that I intended to attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. I knew that many of my friends had done it, but for the last few years, I have been away on holiday so 2017 was my chance to give it a go.

I didn’t expect to achieve 50,000 words in just 30 days. I’m a slow writer at the best of times averaging 500 a day – if I manage 1000 words, I feel very proud of myself – but I thought the discipline would do me good.

A challenge it certainly was – a month of highs and lows – relentless pressure. Here is how it played out:-

The Lead-up

I made contact with my local NaNoWriMo regional group which meets once a week during November in Swindon library. I went along to the preparation meeting at the end of October to meet fellow writers who signed up, all of whom it turned out were regular NaNoWriMo challengers. I was given a welcome pack – a collection of writing prompts plus my very own crocheted inspiration monster who is still perched on top of my monitor.

Several of my friends use Scrivener novel writing software and, like some of the highly successful writers such as Joanna Penn and Nick Stephenson, claim it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Scrivener do a trial offer which meant I could downloaded a copy from the end of October to use throughout November. As another incentive, winners – ie those who make it to 50,000 words – can buy the licence at a 50% discount. Trying to learn a new piece of software and write 1,660 words a day seemed ambitious in the extreme, but in for a penny etc!

I had a few days to get to grips with Scrivener and start thinking about the plot. I am definitely not a plotter. I perhaps had more of an idea where the story was going than when I wrote my first novels some ten years ago but I write to find out what happens so detailed plotting  before I make a start has never been my style. Everything considered, the odds were definitely against me.

The Great Start 

It began well – 2000 words each day – but I’d written those beginning scenes in my head in the preceding days so it was only to be expected. The weekend slipped back a little, only 1300, but still not too shabby. After the first ten days I was still roughly on target. Then things got difficult. 

The Endless Middle 

Having written all the ‘easy’ scenes, I struggled. I had no real idea where the plot was going – my original ideas had so many holes, I had to have a complete rethink. I also had to take time off actually getting words down for almost a whole day in order to work out time lines in my plot. I also found that I had no choice but to spend time doing vital research. Although many things that need research can be left until the first draft is written so as not to break the flow of writing even if you are not doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, there were several times in November when research became essential. The story was at a cross roads and to have taken the wrong path would have meant totally rewriting half of the novel.

It was no real consolation to remind myself that I have hit that low point half way through writing a novel nine times already with my previous books (12 if you add in the three novels that were never published). Many writers experience the feeling that the plot isn’t working, that the writing is terrible, the characters have no vitality and that the best thing to do might be to put it out of its misery and scrap the whole thing and start a new novel altogether.

It is so easy to let the relentless process of having to churn out 1700 words every single day get to you. How I longed to be able to take a day off!

The Glorious Final Days

Things began to pick up in the final week. Inspiration struck and at last I had some idea of how I could uncover my murderer. The word count began to pick up. Perhaps I would reach the finishing line after all. There was a hiccup on day 28, but with two more days to go, I might just make it. Day 29 was unbelievable. I skipped going to my usual Wednesday morning line dancing class and sat down at the PC. The words just flowed out – over 3,ooo of them. The most I have ever written in a single day and I had reached the 50,000 word mark. I even went back on the last day and wrote another couple of scenes.

My NaNo Buddy

I would never have made it with my NaNo buddy – Gerry Cameron. Without her, I might well have given up. Many times!

Gerry writes historical romance  novels as Alicia Cameron and some of my favourite crime novels set in her native Glasgow as GM Cameron.

We emailed each other at the end of most days. Interestingly, most of the time the pattern of our progress echoed each other’s. We seemed to be going through the same traumas at roughly the same times. I even had to take a day off to work out time lines the day after she had done just that. I’d never have made it without your help, support, and encouragement, Gerry. You’re a star!

You could say, I had a vested interested in encouraging Gerry. I can’t wait to read the next in her fantastic Andromeda series.

Will I Do It Again?

I would recommend writers try it at least once. You learn a lot. Will I do it again? Not next year certainly – I’m away on a two back-to-lecture cruises in the Mediterranean in November 2018. Once thing is certain – next time, I’ll try not to put myself under the same pressure as this time.

If you did NaNo, how did you find it? Perhaps you are an old hand at NaNo, was it easier this time around?

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