NaNoWriMo, ah yes. To some, it is just a baffling not-quite-word that clogs up the Twitter trends every November. To others, it is a golden chalice; to partake from its wine is to enter a nirvana of creative solitude. For a month, the belly of the whale is home to you, your laptop, and your manuscript. The aim: punching your novel’s word count mercilessly into the 50,000 zone.
I was sceptical of NaNo when I first heard of it. That many words… in one month? Ha! Pure gimmickry. What about work? Social commitments? Things? SO MANY THINGS. No, I thought, such an endeavour was the preserve of a few deranged hermits, dribbling onto their Chiclet keyboards in the early hours.
But every year it came around. Every November, that same gauntlet, thrown brazenly amidst the Twitter trends. And this year I decided: why not? I have a synopsis primed for novelisation, I have leave still to use, I too have a Chiclet keyboard! So this September I made my commitment, and over the following two months whipped up the worldbuilding into a furious maelstrom of magic systems, religions, and geographical oddities.
And then, because clearly writing a novel over a month is not nearly challenging enough, I littered my November with all sorts of procrastination pitfalls and devious distractions. And then, after realising I’d given myself an improbability of work to do, set myself a more reasonable target of 30,000 words. Now it’s December, the finger-cramp is easing, the wordrage is soothing, the Chiclet keyboard is… not quite the same. How did a NaNo virgin get on in his first time? This is what went down…
The First Week
The madness had begun and it saw a strong start. November 1st dawned bright and sharp. Halloween beer fuzz was a distant memory. Great things were coming. The night before, I scribbled out a last-minute detailed synopsis for my first few chapters. So equipped, I marched into a laptop-locked, caffeine-controlled exile.
I’d already booked the first week off from work to allow myself a fighting chance at that 50k shininess (still dreaming). However, I also had a lot of research to do regarding a very real-life matter of arranging some travelling for next year, which conspired to eat up a lot of the time originally set aside for writing. Despite this, I managed a regular evening session of writing each day, just about keeping my head above par. Apart from Friday, where I thought YouTube trawling would somehow make words magically appear on the page (hint: it doesn’t).
Total for the week: 15,000, and likely the last time I will be on par for the 50k trophy.
The Second Week
Only scraped a measly 6,000 word advance over last week’s monstrosity. That’s because the second week saw a return to work, and with it, distractions. It’s a terrible thing to log on to the NaNo website only to witness your progress graph wilt from its initial bold ascent into a flagging plateau. I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional attachment this provokes. When your word count slips further and further from the recommended target, you feel a sense of gross negligence: the graph is your novel.
The stats page gives a horrifically detailed (or satisfyingly, depending on how you’re doing) overview of your day-to-day progress, target word count to win, and estimated finish date. It also provides an extra dollop of smugness and/or wordrage when comparing your tally to that of your writing buddies. Nothing like a bit of friendly competition to squeeze out few hundred words more…
This weekend marks the halfway point. How am I feeling? Pleased. Regardless of how my word count compares to the official target, just having written 20,000 words in two weeks feels pretty damn awesome. At no other time have I done anything remotely like this. That’s the power of the NaNo month. Yes, yes, someone on Twitter boasted about 75k done in the same amount of time, but, really? Those ain’t words, mate, they’re just stream-of-consciousness grunts.
The Third Week
Comfortably slid past the 25k mark this weekend – that’s halfway to the official target, so it’s a shame there’s only one week left. 30k is going to be a breeze, it just remains to be seen how much more can be done on top of that, as I flail against the 50k bastion.
Now, my girlfriend has a different method of defeating the NaNo beast. Rather than pumping out word after word, she instead rewrites the same chapter again and again. And again. Her official word count stays exactly the same, whilst her actual word count goes untallied – NaNoWriMo will never find out exactly how many words she’s written, thereby successfully subverting the entire process. Probably not an advisable technique, but hey, it works for her.
Personally, I find there’s nothing quite like scrolling through the Twitter trend for #NaNoWriMo when in need of motivation. Witnessing all those smug types sailing ahead with DOUBLE my word count is an amazingly effective wrecking ball against writer’s block. Whatever procrastination I had planned, however not into writing I may have been feeling, scrolling through the NaNo trend summons a red mist that consumes all. This, I think, is what lies at the heart of the NaNo experience. By utilising both community spirit and solitary confinement – that paradox peculiar to the internet – NaNoWriMo provides the compulsion to write and the time to do it.
The Final Week
Hit the magic 30k mark on Thursday. So that’s it, target nailed, now going to trust in the exit velocity rule of productivity to plough through as many words as possible up to the final hour. This week I also face the perplexing task of writing an article about taking part in NaNoWriMo, whilst taking part in NaNoWriMo.
My progress graph now resembles a gently-ascending staircase made from annoyingly large flagstones, so that you have to take two steps just to go up one, if you know what I mean. To put it in context, let us consider the real NaNo warriors out there. Yeah, let’s do that. Their progress graph resembles a mountainside with tiny crimpy footholds and a slope so severe you need rope, quickdraws, and a climbing harness just to comprehend it. Yeah.
So how’s it been? Exhilarating, all said and done. A lot of the niggling aspects of writing (usually an aspect of the world or character that isn’t fully developed) I’ve simply not had time to mull over as I might have under normal conditions. Instead, it’s been a case of: choose the next best option, write on through. In some cases, Plan B has in fact usurped whatever Plan A was meant to be anyway, which just goes to show how much dithering goes into the writing process – if you let it.
That’s the great thing about NaNo, and what everything about it boils down to. It encapsulates the first commandment of writing that all the guides agree upon: Write. Strangely enough, for a lot of writers it’s a point easily overlooked. NaNoWriMo, through its many motivational tricks, makes that commandment work by giving you the time and communal goodwill to get on and do it. Can I recommend it? Absolutely. It might not be your usual style of writing, you may decide never to do it again, but it may, just may, force you to do the one thing you know you should be doing: putting words on a page.
Total for the month: 32,684.
An edition of this article first appeared at Fantasy Faction on 19th December 2014