Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Participating in the National Novel Writing Month

The previous posts brought me to the end of October last year, when I arrived near Perpignan, at my sister's vineyard. I have blogged about getting ready for NaNoWriMo, and about leaving Singapore, though I hadn't specified that I've been able to do what I did since thanks to my sister and her partner who invited me to spend time at their place over the winter.

I had a few goals my family and friends have been supporting me in:

  1. Writing a novel
  2. My drivers license 
  3. Ease my transition back to France after 10 years abroad (admin paperwork, etc)
  4. Figure out what & where was next.
I'll focus on my experience with NaNoWriMo for this post, which has been a fascinating exercise. 

I've had ambitions to write a novel for a long time, and had set those aside for a long time too. I checked and the most I'd written towards one novel was about 6,000 words, and that was 15 years ago. I'd never written 50,000 words of the same story, which is the NaNoWriMo challenge goal.

I was writing on a regular basis since the month of July with the intention of choosing the main theme and story for the novel I'd be writing in November. I also spent time on writing advice blogs about storytelling, novel structure, characterisation, worldbuilding, etc.

Of course by the time November 1st 2014 arrived, with months of preparation time, set up at my sister's place in the countryside ready to write a novel, I still hadn't chosen what it would be about. As you can see from the graph I didn't add words for the first few days, instead scrambling to get a storyline together from one of the ideas I was toying with. 

The single most common piece of advice from professional writers is that to be a writer, you have to write. Silly yet true. I wasn't really satisfied that I'd chosen the right story to tell, but then I just focused everything on writing for word count. The graph above and the word count were paramount. 

I quickly prepared a storyline and followed it as best I could, other than that I didn't know what I was writing about until I sat down every day and wrote it. The most difficult part was to keep writing regardless of all the considerations going through my mind. 

I didn't know anything about the topic at hand; I'd keep writing. 

I was appalled at how bad my writing was; I'd keep writing.

That piece of dialogue was all wrong; I'd keep writing.

This or that part of the story didn't make sense; I'd keep writing.

You get the drift.

I didn't spend time on the NaNoWriMo support forums and only read the pep talk emails from published authors - which were very encouraging and arrived in my inbox at excellent times throughout the month to keep me on track. Towards the end of November, I admit I was fed up with writing stuff I wasn't satisfied with and not going back to read and improve at all, though I would still recommend participating if you want to write a novel.

I think the main thing I learned and I proved to myself out of the exercise is that I am capable of writing a novel, or at the very least the amount of words to make up a novel. I'm proud I completed the challenge successfully and have a first draft to a novel, more than I'd ever completed before. It is definitely a very ugly duckling of a first draft, but one nonetheless. 

On the downside, I took 6 months to reread what I wrote. At first I had a hard time being with how bad it was and got busy with other things. I only finished it this month. It is all wrong and pretty bad, but I'm happy there are some worthwhile ideas and passages, particularly in the second half of the book. I'm going to keep working on it now.

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