NaNoWriMo : planning for the annual writing fest

Its that most wonderful time of the year

No not the one in December…

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us, and if you are planning to participate this year, you may be plotting already, even if your plotting to take the fly by the seat of your pants route, you’re probably scribbling down a few idea’s to set yourself up for the annual festival of writing. Of course it’s always possible you have no idea what I am talking about. Or you know what I am talking about and are planning to flee for the hills. For some of us November means National Novel Writing Month, or to be more exact as this month long festival of writing is some what ubiquitous, International Novel Writing Month. Though InNoWriMo has never caught on as a hash-tag…

If parts of this post seems familiar to regular readers BTW, they are, as mostly it is the post from last year ( yes its cheating but the next few paragraphs are explaining what NaNoWriMo is and there are only so many times I am going to type that lot out… After that I’ll be talking about how last year went and my plans for this year, so you may want to leap ahead a little…

But first the annual NaNoWriMo calendar…

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is based on a simple premise. The challenge is to write a 50000 word first draft novel over the course of November. Which works out at around 1667 words a day. The focus is not on creating a finely crafted work of art, but on getting words down on a page. The theory been that the first draft is the hardest part, and its in a way a collective effort, the NaNoWriMo organisation will point you in the direction of local groups of writers and forums with whom you can chat, and encourage each other and on occasion have someone to vent to about how your main character is utterly ignoring the plot you scribbled down on the back of a fag packet… For what is always an ostensibly introvert activity, the NaNoWriMo community is very supportive and inclusive and often just plain fun.

To be clear, no one is going to judge your work, its not a competition. There is a participation trophy is you register with the NaNoWriMo website, and manage to hit the target. But ultimately the quality of the work is not a matter of question, or indeed the point. To paraphrase Stephen King , ‘To be a writer you need to write’ and that is the point. NaNoWriMo encourages writing. Many NaNoWriMo writers never publish their work, or ever intend to. Some will put out their completed novels to the community via websites. And some will take what they wrote in the mad festival of literary insanity and polish those first drafts, complete them and eventually they may well become published novels. Certainly that is what happened with my first novel ‘Cider Lane’ for which the first draft was a NaNoWriMo project (sort of, for reasons I did it in June). And while none of my other novels started out as NaNoWriMo projects as such, there have been ideas, characters and whole sections of my NaNoWriMo projects which have found there way into novels. Mainly though, I start this every year for nothing more than fun. Though I tend to use it to work out some ideas or perhaps string out a first draft of something.

I have talked about NaNoWriMo before in far more detail in previous years, with plenty of bits of advice and suggestions, hence all the links below, I also attempted to blog about the whole thing on a day by day basis a couple of year ago which went really well… Until it didn’t, because writing a blog each day as well as trying to hit word targets was frankly an insane proposition…

NaNoWriMo Stuff

Last Year…

Last year I decided to use NaNoWriMo to finish off the first draft of a novel which at the time had a working title of Maybe’s Daughter. My main reason for doing this was simply because I needed a project, I needed a break from Hannibal having published From Russia With Tassels, and Maybe’s Daughter had sat on my hard drive in a folder for a couple of years gathering dust at around the 30k words mark. I suspected I needed another 50k to finish the story I had in mind so as that’s the wordcount target for NaNoWriMo it all sort of nicely fit together as a challenge.

There are those who might say that finishing off a novel I’d already started is outside the spirit of NaNoWriMo. They’re entitled to that opinion, but at the same time screw their opinion. The whole idea of NaNoWriMo as far as I am concerned is to encourage people to write. Besides while there are rules, the rules are mere guide lines and winning and losing at NaNoWriMo is a matter of perspective.

The point being, I was going to use NaNoWriMo to try and complete a first draft of a book that I had been sat on for a couple of years while writing Hannibal. While I had the plot vaguely worked out in my head and a reasonable idea where it was all going it was still a blank slate (I don’t over plot a novel when writing a first draft.)

To cut an otherwise long story short, I didn’t manage 50k last November, for the third year running I ‘failed’ at NaNoWriMo, at least in terms of hitting the target… Oddly working on a novel you already have plotted and planned does slow you down a little in my experience, because the wilder flights of fancy you could go down get curtailed, you can’t kill someone off you know you need a few chapters down the line for example. However what I did manage to write in November was around 35k and by mid December, as I kept on going, I had a first draft of Maybes Daughter complete.

The title got shortened to Maybe, for reasons, and I did a second draft, then a third, then sometime in early February complete novel off to beta readers and editors and by mid march, just in time for my 50th birthday I had a new book to release, which was frankly an unexpected out come. So yes, I failed my NaNoWriMo challenge last year, but I did actually get the novel out of it I was looking for. A rather good novel people like a great deal if the some what less than gentle urgings to get on with the sequel I promised would be out this year are anything to go by.

(spoiler alert, the second Maybe novel is not going to be out this year.)

Which brings me to this year, where I intend to go for the same trick. The third Hannibal novel A Squid on the Shoulder has been stalled a while for reasons beyond writing. While it may not need a full 50k words to complete (its about 45k at the moment) I suspect it will end up around the 90k mark and I can almost guarantee the first draft will need another 50k that will end up being trimmed back a little in the following drafts as that’s what normally happens.

If I manage NaNoWriMo or not this year remains an open question, I suspect I will fail again, but not for want of trying. The point here is that I always look upon NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to get something written, be it a first draft from scratch or to finish a work in progress.

I’ve always written better, or at least more productively in the autumn and winter months and so it comes at the right time for me every year. Last year finally gave the world Eliza TuPaKa, Benjamin West and Gothe. This year with a little luck and a lot of hard work will hopefully give the world Hannibal and Hettie aboard Jules Verne’s submarine, Doctor Musk’s Island, the biggest howitzer ever conceived for the most literal of moonshots, and it may even get me to the bowels of the Kremlin to free H G Wells form the clutches of….. Ahem, I’m saying too much here…

In essence though, I am saying all this in the hope it may convince some of you to give NaNoWriMo a go. Remember its not the succeeding so much as the taking part. Its not about writing a Booker prize winner but some kind of first draft, and ultimately its about having fu. So to anyone else already planning for NaNoWriMo I wish you luck and good writing… To anyone inspired to give it a go for the first time , ‘welcome to the party punk’  enjoy….

Mark

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1 Response to NaNoWriMo : planning for the annual writing fest

  1. Pingback: Quoting Deadlines…. NaNoWriMo | The Passing Place

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