Life During Nano

It’s been three years since I did this, and I’m still not sure if I’m doing the right thing, but uh-oh, here we go, NaNoWriMo.

It starts, as it always does, with an idea, usually at the beginning of October. The Nanowrimo feeling hits me in the same way every time–like a swift hit to the third eye. Inspiration strikes with a ball-peen hammer and a bradawl, and story starts flooding into me as if the gods of creativity have just turned on a faucet. I know, at that point, that the moment has come. It’s all I can do to keep a header cap on the thing by throwing out plot notes, outlines, character synopses, timelines and the other underpinnings and foundations of any decent novel. All of which is busy work for that sweet moment on November the first, when I put down my first two words: CHAPTER ONE.

Let me slow down and backtrack for those of you amongst the Readership who may be new to my November mania. The National Novel Writing Month is a charity-led initiative focussing on child literacy, that enables authors of all ages and abilities to knuckle down and get some wordcount where it belongs… on the page. The challenge is this. Write 50,000 words towards the first draft of a novel in a month. Seems like a lot? It breaks down to 1667 words a day. Still seems like a lot? Well, you’re right. It is. And that’s the point.

There’s a lot of snark on the internet (no, really, there is) making the claim that Nanowrimo is about quantity over quality. 50,000 words in a month? Hardly the making of something that will amuse, inform, thrill, amaze, dazzle, terrify or generally gobsmack, is it? It’ll be unreadable garbage.

My response? These critics are absolutely right. And none of them are writers, because they have no notion of the concept of Draft Zero.

Draft Zero is the process of getting things down on paper. It doesn’t have to be unalloyed genius out of the gate. In fact, most of it will be ugly, clunky and teeth-grittingly terrible. But it’s out of your head and it’s in a form where you can do something with it. It’s not something that you can show people. You really, really shouldn’t. What you’ll end up with is a working document. A starting point. You can throw it into Scrivener and start making sense out of it. You can see what works and what doesn’t.

But there’s another aspect, and this is what brings me back year after year. As soon as you start writing something, it changes under your hands, and goes in directions that you never expected. You can discover that your hero is an inexcusably horrible prick, but his sidekick has a story that just won’t go away. You find that you’ve killed people you shouldn’t, and you’re clinging on for dear life as your tale gallops along and over fences that you don’t remeber putting there in the first place. Under the pressure of a deadline, when you’re forced to be creative, you discover that Nanowrimo feeling, and the story just starts spilling out of you.

That’s my experience, anyway. I know many people who do Nano that struggle every step of the way, and manage a few thousand words. Have they failed? FUCK no. They’ve put something down that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and somewhere in there might just be the spark of something wonderful. You don’t know, and you can’t know, until you start. Once you take that first step, you’re in a bigger world, and it’s one that’s only bounded by your imagination. How can you not want to try something like that out?

It’s Day 5, I’m just ahead of the inorexable curve that leads to the 50K total. That could change. Who knows? But I’m so happy to be back. I’ve missed this feeling.

If you want to know more about Nanowrimo, then your first step should of course be If you want to know more about what I’m up to, then my Nano page is here. Add me as a buddy if you need to. I’m always happy to chat and offer advice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have a novel to write.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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