Nanowrimo starts today. For those not familiar with it, National Novel Writing Month happens every November. It is a novel writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world and challenges them to write 50,000 words in November. Check out the hashtag #nanowrimo on Twitter to see how many writers get involved. Author Julia Crouch has kindly written a piece about her experience with NaNoWriMo: I always wondered if I had that novel in me. Whenever I read a book I loved, I felt an ache inside. I wanted to write something like that.
But the sheer size of the task put me off. I made several attempts, but, by the time I got to chapter three and read through what I had written, I realised I didn’t know where my story was going, my writing was useless and my characters cardboard. I just didn’t have the confidence to devote a year of my scarce free time to confirming my secret fear that I wasn’t up to it.
Then my Open University creative writing tutor told me about NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I signed up and, during November 2007, I wrote the first, very rough, draft of my first novel.
The thing about NaNoWriMo that suits writers like me is that it allows us to be flawed. The aim is to produce a 50,000 word novel in the space of one month. That is 1700 words a day seven days a week for thirty days. Working at that pace there is no time for rereading and agonising. In fact, the advice is that you don’t look back at what you have written – just keep forging ahead. If a story development means you need to change something earlier on, jot a note in the margin, but keep moving forward. The month is all about word count. Quantity not Quality.
And of course, the 50,000 word NaNovel you have in your hands on the first of December will be, for the most part, fairly rubbish. But it is there! And you have something to work with for the next year!
Which is what I did in 2008 with Cuckoo, my second NaNovel (the first still languishes on my hard drive). I spent a year editing it and, when I thought it was ready to show to another human being, I sent it off to Simon Trewin at United Agents, who signed me. Within two weeks I had a three-book deal with Headline, enough to give up the day-job and write full time. Cuckoo was published in hardback on March 2011 and the paperback is out on November 24. It is also being published in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, China and Brazil. The first draft of my second novel, Every Vow You Break (out March 2012) was driven forward during NaNoWriMo 2010, and my third, Bad Jean, is gaining its middle 50k chunk this year (strictly speaking that’s cheating, because the idea is that you create the whole story arc within the 50k, but, hey, I’ve got contractual deadlines now). I’m not alone – 89 NaNovels have won major publishing deals, including bestsellers Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
NaNoWriMo is basically a great idea backed up by a brilliantly resourced website run by an office of people in Berkeley CA (I visited them this summer – it was like a pilgrimage). In 2011 there will be 250,000 participants from sixty countries. You can update your wordcount online, make novelling buddies to urge you on, and connect with other local NaNoWriMers using the local regional forums (my own, Brighton, has over 1000 members). You can also participate in local meet ups – usually social in coffee shops and pubs, but there are also write-ins, where you get together and write, perhaps in libraries. There is a local Municipal Liaison person who organises this for each area. It’s quite an eye-opener to turn up and see how many people are at it.
Twitter and Facebook back up all the website-based NaNoWriMo organisation. I’m friends with quite a few NaNoWriMers – the NaNoWriMo twitter hashtag is getting quite busy right now. It was through twitter that I met up with Elizabeth Haynes, another UK novelist whose NaNovel was published (Into the Darkest Corner, published by Myriad this year). And I instantly managed to get together a great crew of local NaNoWriMers for a BBC Breakfast film just by putting the question out there.
The fact that I am a bit of a geek – my day job used to be website design – has really helped my writing life. Facebook, twitter and blogging are vital sources of information and networking for me. I have met loads of fellow writers through social media – including some of my heroes, who I have gone on to meet in the real world. It’s quite the antidote to sitting on your own for all those writing hours. For example, in Brighton we have Beach Hut Writers, a facebook group of published writers with regular monthly meet ups, completely created through social media.
It’s this social aspect that really makes NaNoWriMo work. Whether you meet up with other people in November or not, you realise you are not alone; you are part of a massive, international effort, and, by signing up, you have made a public pledge to getting that novel written. It’s a process borne very much out of the spirit of social networking.
Whether you reach the target of 50k in the month or not (one in five do), you will most likely be energised and motivated by the process. I would recommend NaNoWriMo to any writers, published or not. It’s worth giving the quick and dirty first draft process a try. You never know. You might discover, like I did, that it is the one for you. For more information, look at the website: http://www.nanowrimo.org, or get the book: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo.
Find out more about Julia Crouch here: http://www.juliacrouch.co.uk