Most of us have heard of National Novel Writing Month, but how many have actually tried it? The first time I did it, I was writing on my own – didn’t belong to any groups – so I just got my head down and went for it. I had the sense to try a fantasy, which wasn’t really my ‘thing’ but I’ve found it’s certainly the easiest way to reach that target of 50,000 words in 30 days. This year I’ve done a second novel to follow on from my first ‘turn-of-the-century (nineteenth) detective novel. Lots of encouragement to put it all together, but difficult to sustain over 30 days because of the minor detail of historical accuracy and the need for continual research. In one chapter, my heroine went into town on half-day closing. Except that as soon as I typed it, I realised that half-day closing didn’t become general until the 1912 law was passed – my book is set in 1899. Think again!
This time round I do belong to writing groups and others in those groups are also tackling NaNoWriMo. We support each other, commiserate when we miss the required number of words, which is great. It also gives it a more competitive edge – we know the people who are with us in this, we like to keep up with others’ production rate. We also become more aware of the difficulties people have, those who miss targets because of personal or family glitches, or those who just don’t get around to doing it for all sorts of other reasons. We not only sympathise, we stop berating ourselves quite so much – just thankful we don’t have the same problem to deal with.
So, is it worth it? Well, you may prefer to have a 500 or 1000 word a day deadline which works very well for you already and don’t want the sudden pressure of producing almost 2000 words a day. And if you’re a very organised writer, always setting your own deadlines, and meeting them, you’ll probably want to give it a miss. You don’t need that kind of support or pressure, unless you’re a masochist.
For the rest of us, it focusses your brain on the act of writing and it does it on a daily basis. Normally, we can sit at the computer, then realise we have to ring xxx before we start; then we make a cup of tea, put the washing in, let the dog on the garden, check emails etc, etc before we really start to think about what we are going to write – probably just as we realise it’s lunchtime.
But for the whole of November, you write. You get up early in the morning to be sure to doing your 2000 words before work or sit up at night, missing or recording your favourite programmes, just so you can see that little bar graph on the NaNo website shoot up a little further. And then they pat you on the back by giving you a little badge that says you’ve typed your first NaNo words. You get another one when you’ve hit 10,000 words and so on to the end. You can get badges for having done the whole rigmarole in previous years, for having writing buddies and for attending local write-ins. We feel better for all this and start to act like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the thought of a little picture on our screen that says we’ve been good today.
Then they send you emails too. Incessantly. Every day. Encouraging you, reminding you that you’ve not updated yet, asking for donations, confirming how worthwhile it all is, how worthwhile you are. We believe them (unless you’re as ‘bah, humbug’ as I am about all that and simply delete the emails). But the support works. We don’t want to let ourselves down, we don’t want to let them down.
By the end of November, you not only have 50,000 towards your next book, you have a brain that is half-way trained to produce words at the sight of a computer (or notepad, as appropriate). And that is the point of it all. But, like passing your driving test, we have a tendency to slip back into old habits. So perhaps we should all set ourselves our own personal NaNoWriMo every month. If we wrote just 1000 words of our novel every day, in one year we would have a 350,000 word book (allowing time off for Christmas!) or three full novels or a trilogy.
But a word of warning: if you join the merry throng next year, don’t agree to do a YWL Blog in November, otherwise you’ll have to produce 3000 on one day. Pass the double brandy, someone!