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How writing a 50,000-word novel in a month beat me

November 24, 2011

On day 22 of my challenge to try and write a novel in a month I had to accept defeat. It is now day 24 and I have to come to terms with my failure. But, I am taking only positives from managing to write 23,531 words in three weeks and will keep this novel (provisionally called We Were Made Out Of Lightning) alive, just not in the pressure cooker environment of NaNoWriMo.

It’s amazing the looks of disgust and disappointment I have had from some people I have told about my resignation but in truth it was an incredible difficult task and one I think I took lightly when I started. Writing 1,667 words a day is one thing, but writing them alongside a full-time job, football on Mondays, drama on Thursdays, and a social life, is another. I usually managed about 1,000 on a week day then would try and catch up at the weekends – a strategy which broadly worked. But, when you stopped writing, the scheduled word count did not. When you only managed 1,666, you fell behind. Then the next day when you only wrote 1,665, you fell behind even more. It was that relentless catch up which made it so difficult. Perhaps the straw which broke the camel’s back came a week last Sunday (day 13). I had written about 4,500 words and caught up within a day of Mistress Target and was happy with how I stood. But on getting home from an afternoon’s stay in a Cambridge cafe I realised I’d miss-judged the date and was an extra 1,667 words behind what I had thought. That was really demoralising and took the wind out of my already flagging sails.

From then on it was an uphill struggle. I caught up to 22+thousand but the target was running away. Then, one missed day later I was staring down the barrel of a 10,000 word deficit. If the Government could take my approach to their deficit, I’m sure they would. So, here we are. I am ducking out of NaNoWriMo.

 

I fully intend to keep writing the novel and can now aim for a logical conclusion of the story rather than a token target of 50,000. I was very aware of the word count pressure affecting the content and quality of the book (perhaps that’s half the trick, as one author told me, you have to turn your inner editor off) and am not prepared to drudge on for 25,000 sub-par words and still not make the target.

In this is another positive to take. I am actually happily surprised with the quality of the book so far. Yes, it will need a lot of tinkering, re-writing, and cutting, but on the whole I have surprised myself with how well the plot and characters have taken shape. The 22 days I took part have taught me a lot about my writing ability. I still have a lot to learn but I have now written four times as much as I had ever written before. Over the next few months I will keep working on the book and hopefully will to get to a stage where I have finished, can edit it, and maybe even let others (a poor few close friends and perhaps my mother) read it.

NaNoWriMo is a brilliant idea. It sparks literary thought among hundreds of thousands of people around the world and encourages many young writers, like myself, to put pen to paper. After going to the first meet up in Cambridge I was surprised to see that many of the authors were taking a much more jovial, fantasy approach to their novels whereas mine was set to be a grim study of emotional distress and loss – perhaps that is where I went wrong. I would be interested to see the breakdown of the genres of books written. In my “genre” which I found myself telling most people was “other” I found it difficult to take onboard a lot of the NaNoWriMo support. I could not simply kill off a main “boring” character and replace it with an authoritative space monkey and nor could I wangle an exploding cheese grater into a slow scene. In that, my words had to come from a very specific place and not from frivolous plot hijacks. Not cheapening anybody eles’s attempt to take on the challenge, I think my style of book made the task a lot more difficult. But I could not bring myself to drop the niggling idea of the novel I had always wanted to write in favour of blurting out 50,000 words on any topic. This is something I believe will stand me in good stead when coming back to my work and trying to build on it.

Thank you to all those on Twitter/Facebook who supported me and to all those outside the internet who helped me with it. I have no doubt one day I will finish what I have started and the first 22 days of this month have made me incredible excited about that prospect. I take nothing but positives away from NaNoWriMo’s victory and may even invest in a desk as writing in bed has certainly given me a new outlook in life – one where I cannot look up for 24 hours at a time because of a cricked neck.

So, well done to all those still writing – you should be tickling 40,000 words by now – and I wish you all the best in the final 10 days. But for me, NaNoWriMo is finished, but my novel is not.

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2 comments

  1. Over 23,000 words in three weeks is a remarkable achievement and a brilliant foundation for the rest of the novel. So many positives to be taken here and huge congrats. I hope you find that the experience has given you the momentum to see the book through to its conclusion – albeit at a gentler pace!


  2. […] you who were aware my attempts at literary self-destruction last November when I tried to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to learn I am picking up the 23,000+ words I managed to […]



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