If you’ve never heard of it, Nanowrimo is an annual event in which novelists and aspiring novelists are challenged each November to write 50,000 words in the course of the month. It’s been going on for quite a while and although, November being a Novemberish kind of month, I occasionally make a private challenge to myself to sit down and write, I’ve never embarked on the ‘full nano’ until now.
#nanowrimo as a concept has mixed reviews. Not everyone (hardly anyone?) ends up with a novel or even the makings of one. So why spend a large part of the month throwing words on a page, many of which I can more or less guarantee will never see the light of day? I think there are two main reasons.
The first one is discipline. Since finishing In the Blink of an Eye my writing habit has become, let’s say, infrequent. There have been too many days when there is apparently no time to write. And if I’m going to get to 30,000 (you can set your own target and I think 50,000 is beyond me even writing full time!) there will have to be very few days when I don’t write. And now that we’re half way through the month I can say I have enjoyed the discipline of writing more often partly for the end result (wordcount!) but also for that pleasure of sitting down in a safe space and communing with my own creations – excellent therapy in the days of limited daylight and lots of rain
The second benefit, paradoxically, is freedom! Around a month ago I attended a Flash Fiction worskhop with Vanessa Gebbie and hosted by Novel Nights which reminded me of the benefits of free writing. There was a prompt to get us going and sometimes a style, structure or scenario to stick to, but other than that no holds were barred. I was relieved there was no compulsion to read out what we produced on the day but I did surprise myself with the makings of three half-decent flashes in as many hours.
So when or why I had writing got so difficult and cramped? I guess the effort of producing a finished book (much of which was an editing process) had taken longer than the writing of the initial draft. It was a long time since I had started any extended piece of writing and the longer it became the harder it got. I also spend some of my week critiquing work with other writers. Creativity is a kind of letting go whereas editing and critiquing are more analytical and reigned in. I needed to forget about the craft and go with the flow.
A few nanowrimo caveats. However many words I write, I know they are only the very beginning in terms of producing a novel. The need to keep going (no editing alllowed) means I have rambled on to my heart’s content in some scenes, skipped through others in a few lines and sometimes left huge gaps in the chronological narrative. As my book is historical, I’m also writing some sections in advance of doing the research, so that’s a risk in itself!
I am not by nature a ‘plotter’ and have never successfully planned a whole book in advance, so writing from the seat of my pants is not a new thing for me. However I would never normally dip in and out of a narrative without worrying about momentum and direction. If I got stuck I would stop and think about where I was going. As I’m not allowed to get stuck I simply have to take the story elsewhere.
In my mind this is ‘pre-writing’ or what a friend called ‘draft zero’. Repetition, hesitation or deviation are no problem. It is liberating but I know that liberation will be paid for down the line. Eventually I will have to get a grip of the overall structure and see what fits or even if there is a novel hiding in there at all. For the time being I’m reasonably happy to be adding to what Sarah Duncan would have called a ‘lump of clay’ – the raw material from which a novel may one day emerge. Abandoning one novel idea a few weeks ago is a prod to get going but also a worry – will I become similarly unstuck?
Yes, this novel may be another false start, but least this way I’ll know by Christmas!
I’m allowing myself the occasional day off and so I did make it to another highly entertaining evening (and only slightly wobbly on that high stage!) at Stroud Short Stories last Sunday and an equally enjoyable if rather different afternooon yesterday with Bath Writers and Artists.
Life goes on, and for now at least, so does my fourth (!) novel.