This article was originally published on the website of the online lifestyle magazine A Little Opulent.
A fortnight of fireworks, sudden 4 p.m. darkness, and guilt: the sure signs that November is again upon us.
The first items in the list are self-explanatory, the last becomes more so if you have tried to complete National Novel Writing Month as many times as I have—and failed. NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately known among the initiated, is an annual challenge, now international in spite of the name, in which participants aim to write 50000 words of fiction during the 30 days of November.
As someone who benefits from the pressure of a deadline, a fact mentioned in a previous post on my own blog, signing up for NaNo seemed like the perfect way to get a first draft done. 1667 words, the average daily target required to complete the challenge, looks doable to somebody accustomed to finish (and start, if I’m honest), coursework essays within 24 hours, staying up into the early hours of the due date. Without even a bibliography to consider, writing fiction ought to be much easier. And yet.
In spite of the enthusiastic approach I took to NaNoWriMo when I first discovered it (signing up, planning my novel, browsing the online forum, trying to persuade other people to join me, like someone attempting to recruit their friends into a dubious-sounding 30-day juice cleanse), I have yet to complete it. I think around 6000 words was my peak. Not even the emailed pep talks from other writers or the thought of earning the right to wear a NaNo T shirt from the online gift shop spurred me on to completion.
I tried, though. Several times. The last time I decided to give NaNo a go was in November 2010, when I began writing what would become the manuscript I still, four years later, have yet to finish. I was doing an A Level Art project of the theme of ‘Paper’ at the time, and since I planned to make a book for my final piece I came up with the ingenious plan of combining novel writing with school work by printing and binding a copy of my finished book as a piece of art. In the end, when it became clear that 50000 words was a rather ambitious target, I spread the words I had written over a book’s worth of pages, breaking up the ‘story’ with photographs and other imagery. The art project turned out well enough, but I was not yet a novelist.
I didn’t even bother pretending that I might complete NaNo during the three years I was at university, but continued to work on my manuscript as and when. The ‘slow and intermittent’ approach resulted in my having a document, when November rolled around again this year, whose word count statistics showed that I had amassed over 60000 words. I would need to write fewer than 1000 words a day during November to reach my target of 90000 for the first draft. Without any essays left to write, I had little excuse. I decided to try it.
Back when I first encountered NaNoWriMo in 2009-ish, the rules were clear: you could only ‘win’ by writing 50000 words of fiction, all belonging to a single work, beginning in the month of November. Outlines were permitted, but jumping the 00:00 starting gun on November 1st by writing actual prose ahead of time was frowned upon. Of course there were always a few rebels, who even had a dedicated section in the forum, but now, it seems, anything goes. The FAQ section on the Nanowrimo.org website merely recommends that writers ‘give [themselves] the gist of a clean slate!’ Writers ‘at any stage’ of their novels are now welcomed, provided they only count words written during the month.
Even if I do manage to finish the first draft of my manuscript during November, I still won’t have ‘won’ NaNo by having the stamina to put out 50000 words. But I will have achieved something, albeit something less snappy than ‘50k in 30 days’, which sounds alarmingly athletic. Perhaps it’s no surprise I never made it to the end.
Embarking on my ersatz NaNo in a quest to finish a first draft (NaNoFiMo?), I have come up with a number of motivational strategies, one being this blog. Having publicised previous failures, I’d prefer not to have to do it again. And there is always stationery; the separate but daunting task of editing which follows completion of a first draft will no doubt require much organisation.
But first: to finish.