NaNoWriMo 2013

It’s about two years since I first heard of National Novel Writing Month. It was on BBC Breakfast, sometime during October 2011, probably presented by Nick Higham. The idea was simple. Start writing a novel at the beginning of November, and have fifty thousand words in the can by the end of the month, fifty thousand words being the minimum size for a ‘novel’, apparently. That’s it. You register on the website, write your fifty thousand words, upload your ‘novel’, and you’re declared a winner.
BricksIt’s easy to cheat. You can start in August, or copy and paste something you’ve already written (or stolen). You can type the word ‘word’ fifty thousand times. If you belong to the pile-of-bricks-in-the-Tate school of literature, that might be a satisfying solution. You could even be really subversive, and type the word ‘word’ once, copy it, and paste it forty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine times, pretend that you’ve typed it fifty thousand times, and only own up in your memoirs. However, since there’s no Turner-Prize-type monetary reward, it hardly seems worth it.
The name is also a bit awkward. National Novel Writing Month is a bit of a mouthful, so it’s often referred to as NaNoWriMo, or even just NaNo (or even Nano). The odd use of uppercase in NaNoWriMo is reminiscent of the naming convention in software called ‘camel back’, and NaNoWriMo sounds like the kind of thing Brian Cox uses to measure the number of novelists in Messier Objects. The ‘National’ (it started in America) is also something of a misnomer, since it’s now international, but InNoWriMo sounds like some sort of Japanese lustreware, so it probably isn’t important.
Nevertheless, when I first heard of it, two years ago, the idea appealed to me immediately. My first novel, Flying Lessons, had taken more than twenty years to write. I was in my late fifties. Maths was never my strong point, and actuarial tables strike me as the work of Satan, but I still reckoned that at the current rate I had at most two more novels in me, if I went to the gym and gave up bacon sandwiches and drinking. I needed the need for speed to get me going. If I could write fifty thousand words in a month, I could be the new Barbara Cartland (though less pink). Seventeen hundred words a day will do it. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that straightforward. The fifty thousand words aren’t necessarily matchless prose (even if they aren’t all ‘word), and that’s still a very short novel (Flying Lessons runs to nearly seventy thousand), but I resolved to give it a go.
roadtripsmallLike Tolkien, I set my characters out on a journey, because that way you can go on for as long as you want. Unlike Tolkien, I conceived a middle aged woman whose philandering husband is found dead in a hotel room (on April Fools’ Day) wearing nothing but a condom, the Russian student he’d paid for sex, the road trip, the car, and the gay driver, and I started thinking. By the start of November, I’d fleshed out the ideas, I’d come up with some (hopefully good) jokes, and I had the first couple of lines in my head. I was at a disadvantage, though, since I was in America for the start of November, and in the UK for the end, making my month shorter than everyone else’s by five hours.
I went to the kick-off meeting in a theatre (or theater) in Atlanta, where I met my mentor, the delightful , with whom I’m still in touch. Georgia is the Peach State (and most of the roads in Atlanta are called Peachtree something), and that was where Johnny acquired his peach coloured tee shirt (though the Bush Theater came later). I don’t remember where the name of Tilly Lake came from, but Anka started out as Anna, for no very good reason. On November 1st, I wrote down my first paragraph in the office, headed for the airport, and caught the plane home. By the end of day one, my word count was less than a hundred. Staggering around my sister’s house with jetlag on November 2nd didn’t do much to boost it. Sitting on a train all day coming home to Cornwall on November 3rd was the best strategy. By the time I got to Penzance I was over nine thousand. If someone I knew hadn’t got on in Truro, I might have reached ten.
The rest of the month was a blur. I recall the line that ticked over the fifty thousand, “Tilly, you are as mad as a halibut, and if I did fancy women, you’d be top of my list.” That was around the 20th. By the end of the month, I had seventy thousand words, and Tilly Lake was still in Carlisle, cavorting with characters who had conjured themselves out of chance conversations somewhere along the way. I finally came up with an ending some time after Christmas, and the complete first draft of 140000 words was finished around Easter. I did the 2012 NaNo before Tilly Lake’s Road Trip finally ended up on Amazon.
For 2012 I’d planned ahead. I managed to crank out seventy thousand words, but it wasn’t as much fun as writing ‘by the seat of my pants’ had been, and I still haven’t finished my 2012 novel, so for 2013, it’s back to the suck-it-and-see approach. I have half a dozen characters, a situation, a few jokes, but no real plot. It may or may not produce a novel, but I no longer care. The 2011 NaNo did its job, and I’m writing. I’ve co-authored a couple of novels, and I have the beginnings (and even the middles) of some more, just waiting for inspiration and time.
I’ve been told that the fifty thousand words you can write in a month are crap. It’s possibly true (even if they aren’t all ‘word’), but most first drafts (or half drafts) are probably crap. That’s why we rewrite and edit. There’s December (and so on) for that. Okay, what we write might not appeal to everyone (Tilly Lake’s Road Trip has been roundly despised by a few of the reviewers), but we’ve done it. It’s like running the London Marathon. You don’t have to come first to feel you’ve achieved something. If it was fun, and you finished on your feet, then well done. Result. Hats off.

10 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo 2013

  1. If I did that then nothing else would get done. We already have:
    PE kit hauled from the laundry basket and re used – stinking,
    MOT and tax overdue,
    tickets to the theatre unused because I forgot to go,
    Unavailable dog food food with a tuna fish substitute, and more, much more.
    No. I couldn’t do that unless I left home. Now that’s a thought…

    • Haha. Thanks, Sue. I’m not really suggesting that everyone should give it a go, just pointing out that it’s there, and hopefully passing on a bit of enthusiasm to the people who are interested. Goo luck with your PE kit, hungry dog, car tax, etc. Xx.

  2. What I’ve never ‘got’ about the NaNo thing is that a) you can cheat, as illustrated, and b) why do you have to wait until told to do so, to write 50K words in one month? It’s a bit like people who think they have to get pissed or go to a party because the calendar says Dec 31. I’ve put this argument to people before, and they say it’s just the discipline. I kind of get that, I suppose. I suppose, also, that the answer is just that it appeals to some but not others. And I shouldn’t be rude to or about the people to whom it does appeal. Yep, that’s the answer!!!

    I think it’s because I have always seen writing as a lone thing, not a group thing. In fact I hate group things. Guess I’m the weirdo here – most other writers seem to really like them. Okay, so I’m the weirdo 🙂

    • Thanks, Terry. I know it isn’t for everyone, but I enjoy the social aspect of NaNoWriMo. It’s like going to a cafe with your friends instead of sitting at home and drinking tea. And without the first one I did in 2011, I wouldn’t be writing anything like as much as I am now. I also enjoy the hell for leather rush of it, to get back into high output writing, like taking the car for an Italian service. Life is sweet, and I don’t think you’re weird 🙂 Xx.

  3. no, Terry, I don’t get it either. If you want to write..write when you want and enjoy it. I have a friend who does nanowhatever and she is almost unbearable as she struggles to reach the quota of words every day.I admire the people who do it, but it’s not for me. Writing is a joy, not a chore. I guess people just like setting themselves a challenge …but writing isn’t one of them, as far as I’m concerned. Good luck F if you’re doing it. I won’t be joining you.

    • Thanks, Carol. I wasn’t expecting you to do it too. I don’t find NaNoWriMo a chore, though. It’s fun, but like a white knuckle fairground ride, it isn’t for everyone. I don’t take part in the Camp NaNo events, which lack the social dimension, and I write a thousand or so words most days anyway, so it’s only the late-home-from-work evenings that are a trial. I’m even doing my public spirited bit and being a liaison officer this year, encouraging people, saying ‘Yay!’ and so on. Thanks for wishing me good luck, too. Xx.

      • If you ever say ‘yay’ to me, Francis, I shall unfollow you. To me, it’s only one step up from ‘lol’. Re the cafe as opposed to drinking tea at home thing, I suppose what I mean is that I don’t want to talk to people about writing, I just want to write. When I’m doing it, it’s just me, in my head, and that’s how I like it. Should I go to said cafe with friends I want to talk about anything but. Eeee, it takes all sorts, pet!

        • Haha. Thanks, Terry. Sarah says ‘Yay!’ I’m more of a ‘Woot!’ or a ‘Woo hoo!’ myself. However, I see myself as more as a ‘Yay!’ than a ‘LOL’, and definitely more of a ‘Yay!’ than an ‘Eeee’ or a ‘pet’ (in spite of my Geordie ancestry). I’m with you on the ‘all sorts’ though. Life is sweet.

  4. I can imagine the challenge would be pretty …erm..challenging…sorry…and I think I’d enjoy it myself as I like having that kind of goal – you know, the race to the finish kind of thing, but I’ll probably never do it as the day job always comes first. Since the day job often spills into the night time as well (and no, it’s not that before you get any ideas), I never manage to write except at weekends and during uni holidays. But I do get it. I expect the results are largely rubbish as they’d be first drafts without any further thought, but hey, at least it would be something concrete to work on!

    • Haha. Thanks for stopping by, Val. My day jobs often spill into the evening, too, but I’m hoping I can find enough time every day to crank out my 1700 words.

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