by Jacqueline Ward

November means Nanowrimo. National Novel Writing Month. The time when I write 50000 words in 30 days. Which isn’t novel length, and the length isn’t the only thing that’s different.

I really look forward to November. It’s just after my birthday, just before Christmas and it’s usually cold. So when I discovered Nano many of years ago (I go back to 2006!), I was delighted that I could be both competitive and fill up some almost winter days at the same time. Oh. And write. I tried to resist last year as I was also organising write ins for Oldham NaNoWriMo year, but at the last minute I gave in and opened a brand new Word document at midnight.

I fully expected to produce just over half a novel that first time, something that could be rapidly tied with a ribbon and placed in a lovely coloured envelope and sent off to a literary agent for immediate acceptance. How little I knew back then.

What I actually got was a download of my plot, a roughed-out stream of consciousness that was neither grammatically or structurally correct. But I liked it. I did the Artist’s Way around the same time, and loved the Morning Pages, which reminded me of my adolescent diary-writing, somewhere I could write about a person I didn’t quite know yet.

Nano gives me the space to get to know my characters, their hopes, their fears. The pace helps me to keep the action steady. Most of all, it makes me write every day for a month. I write every day anyway in some capacity, report writing, article writing, planning my diary. Shopping lists. But this is different. It’s a long project and it’s fiction. I can make it up and write it down – November is freedom to create. It’s like exercise time for my writer muscle.

There’s been some critique of Nano and I can understand how some people in the publishing world try to discourage writers from submitting 50k of hastily written prose on 1st December. I’m sure that some writers do this before they know the ‘rules’ of submitting to an agent. In reality, 1st December is when the hard work of the second draft begins. 

One of the main criticisms is that it pushes writers too hard and that those who write slowly get left behind. The target is too difficult. To which I say: change the target! It’s a guideline and I’m certain that longer and short pieces of work have been produced during NaNoWriMo – and that’s just in our writing group. Taking the 50k words too literally and not doing the writing just because ‘a novel isn’t 50k words’ is creating a barrier to creativity and why limit yourself? Use NaNoWriMo to get words down with others. Use the website to chat with other writers and find out more about different writing experiences. Access the resources. It’s all free. 

NaNoWriMo has a lot of good points. It helps to form good working habits, getting the words onto the page regularly, project management, time management. I’ve estimated that for every 90k I’m happy with, I’ve probably written four times that. I started my best-selling novel Random Acts of Unkindness in Nano, but it took six years and half of it rewritten before it was finally published, so I’m not getting over-excited about this year’s effort just yet!

This year I’m starting a new project. Inspired by a Facebook post, I reimagined it and thought about how it would fit into my current ‘uplit’ writing. I am determined not to over-plan or write anything at all, even character sketches, in advance. This is going to be a pure download of words that I can push and pull into a story. It’s exciting! 

So. Onwards and upwards, into another magical November and I know that by the end of the month I will have some more imaginary friends who have come just a little bit more real.

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