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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


So another thing I did yesterday was contact a number of people to see if they would be interested in doing a bit of novel writing.

You may or may not have heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but in essence it's an event held each November where people commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the space of one month. It was started by a writer in San Francisco who wanted to stop procrastinating and get something done. The idea was that by applying a strict deadline to a large project, he would be forced to write with an intensity that precluded the kind of counter-productive thumb-twiddling and self-censorship he usually engaged in. He enlisted a group of friends to help drive him on, made a big deal out of it so that he would feel extra pressure to get it done and cleared the decks for a month to make the time for it. From there it's gone on to become quite a big deal, with groups around the world taking part each November.

This whole thing only came to my attention early last month. I'm at a bit of a funny point with my writing. I'm writing regularly again, which is a good thing, but I feel like I need to take some kind of creative leap. I'm terrified, though, as it has been years since I actually completed anything. My command of language and my ability to tell a story both feel clumsy and amateurish. Which doesn't bode well, given that I want to make a leap to some kind of writing based career once we leave the UK in 3-4 years time. So, despite certain cynical reservations, this NaNoWriMo thing leaped out at me. It sounded like exactly the kind of literary cliff-jumping I needed. A fixed deadline at the end of which, regardless of quality and free from judgement, I will have finished something again.

Yes I was cynical. The whole exercise smacked of the American self-help industry. As a basic concept I approached it sniffily, feeling it was trying to offer me easy answers to something I knew to be difficult. It felt like the writer's equivalent to some kind of ab-tensing fat-buster and the title of the founder's book on the subject - “No Plot? No Problem! A Guide To Writing A Novel In 30 Days” - didn't help matters. But beneath that, as with many self-help guides, lay some good ideas: the importance of deadline-setting in creative work; the need to set aside ego in the creation of a first draft; the joy of completion. These were all things I needed to embrace, but even so I went into the book expecting to last about 50 pages.

I was pleasantly surprised. The tone was conversational and down to earth, and most importantly there was no sense that the author was waving a magic wand to tell you how to write. The fact that writing is hard work was not tiptoed around. Nor was it implied that you would necessarily write anything of worth. The idea was that this was an exercise that could well be useful for you. Even if you progressed nowhere as a writer, the undertaking itself was a worthwhile mental and emotional exertion. The book was quite candid about your chances too: I can't remember exactly off the top of my head, but I think the successful completion rate each NaNoWriMo is (I think) about 17%. Best of all, there was no sense of on-selling. Nothing to suggest that you needed to invest any further money into the venture (in fact, the organisation actually runs as a non-profit venture). It was just a book of tips and encouragement for people who wanted to participate. So that sold it: I was going to do this thing.

November had gone, of course, so I had to either wait a year or just do it myself. Wanting to capitalise on my enthusiasm, I decided that I would do it early next year. January seemed like the logical choice: lousy weather (in this hemisphere, anyway), 31 days in the month (mua ha ha), everyone is broke and there's not a lot going on.

So that's where I am! Andrew's Novel Writing Month (AnNoWriMo) will be happening January 2009, from the 1st (optimistically) to the 31st. 50,000 words, or about 1,600 words per day.

I've emailed a few people to see if anyone else is keen. I know at least three more people who are going to take part and if you haven't heard from me but think you might be keen then please let me know. What doing it as a group will involve I don't know. Probably somewhere online to post our word counts and maybe, for those who are local, a few writing sessions in a pub or cafe. This last thing sounds weird, but the idea is that by meeting up you get a better sense of not being alone in this thing and encourage each other to make the time.

So, will I manage it? I'm not sure to be honest. I have no real idea of what I'm going to do. The freedom of the exercise, the ability to write in any genre I choose while know that no-one else will ever need to read it (read: I may write a trashy fantasy novel), makes me quite indecisive. The rules, such as they are, are quite open too. For example, you are allowed to plot and plan as much as you like in advance. You can do your research, sketch out your characters and plaster your walls with notecards, just so long as you don't write any prose until that first day. On the other hand, it's recommended you don't overdo it, or indeed use ideas you've been developing for some time, simply because the greater your attachment to the idea, the more difficult it will be for you to compromise quality in the short term for the sake of a word count. So I'm not sure whether I should start kicking ideas around now or just start on the first day and see where things take me. And those considerations don't even begin to address how I'm going to manage my time or meet daily word quotas. Well, we'll see.

Anyway, that's what's going on for me. Any thoughts are welcome!

By the way, official NaNoWriMo site here and Wiki here.


  1. So a mate of mine at work has been trying to work on her own projects, academic writing projects mind you, on a daily basis. She and a friend promised each other to write a mere 1/2 hour a day, with the timer on. As soon as the 30 mins hits, each has to stop and go no further. One of them has already submitted works for publication, and they only began this whole *thing* in August. I'm trying to do the same with my chapter. Work on it about an hour a day. I haven't written a word of "prose" just yet (well, it's not meant to be prose), but I've done a lot of the groundwork in just a few weeks. So, I think the challenge is to keep to your limits and not try and do more than 1 day's work in 1 day.

  2. I am in but it wont be a novel. Maybe a play or something.

  3. Anthony Burgess once said "if you write a 1000 words a day, you`ll have written more than half of War and Peace in one year and still have lots of time to do other things.

  4. Excellent! I should also mention there is actually a script writing variant on this as well which runs in April called Script Frenzy.

    But feel free to do it in January!

  5. Hmmm might take you up on the writing thing now that I have committed myself to another three years of hard labour - lol - it may be otherwise called a PhD....