nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November and the deal is you sign up to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days….that works out at a steady 1,677 words a day. Of course, you’re not expected to produce a fully crafted novel by day 30, just to have the raw text of a novel to spend the next few weeks or months, editing, revising and developing.
I signed up on November 1st, and completed my 50,000 words on November 27th and it’s been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I write a lot. This blog is part of my writing output, but I’ve written almost exclusively non-fiction so far (I have a collection of about 80 or so small fictional clinical cases entitled Dr Cannyman’s Casebook to accompany my course in Patient Centred Homeopathy). I’ve had a dream to write fiction as long as I’ve had a dream to be a doctor and I’ve been doctoring some 32 years now, but a novelist for none of them! After all this time, I’ve wondered, could I actually do it? Do I have it in me? I’ve read a few books about creative writing and the one thing they pretty much all say is you have to actually turn up and write. I know. Sounds obvious, huh? But it just isn’t easy. And one of the things that always stopped me from getting started was I might have the germ of an idea, but I sure as hell didn’t have characters or a plot. Surely, I reasoned, you need ALL of that AT LEAST before you start.
I was wrong.
The nanowrimo experience is an experience in motivationally supported daily writing. Yes, I’ve done daily writing for long periods, but never daily fiction writing. Nanowrimo is about daily fiction writing. You sign up online, get your own user page, a box to enter your daily word count and a graph to show you your progress along with stats encouraging you to write a little more by telling you how much more you need to write today to get the 1667 daily target, and what date you’ll finish if you keep on at the rate you’re going. In addition to that you get regular emails encouraging you and they are just brilliant. Liberating messages from other participants and writers saying things like “OK, you’re several days into this now and you’ve probably no plot and no idea where it’s going. Welcome to writing fiction! This is how it is. Keep going. You’ll find your characters and your plot emerging as the month progresses”. Well that was news to me. I had no idea that an approach like that could work.
So here’s what I learned. First of all I learned it really took a LOT of discipline to write those 1667 words a day, but I was more determined the more I progressed. Second I learned that although on the vast majority of days I would have no idea what I was going to write, an idea would emerge, I’d start with that, and before I knew it these characters appeared, this dialogue occurred, these events happened. I found things coming together in ways I hadn’t planned (because I hadn’t planned anything!) and I found little remnants of stories of my life and of people I’ve met turning into brand new elements of other stories under my fingers as I typed. It was a total revelation. Thirdly, this comment from one of the emails “It’s so strange how our mind knows more than we are aware of it knowing.” hit me right between the eyes. That is exactly what I’ve discovered in doing this writing exercise. It’s all in there. Even when you don’t consciously know it.
So here I am. The proud owner of a nanowrimo 2010 winner badge. A writer with a new habit. The owner of 50,000 words to work on, words I feel which have a good chance of turning into a proper novel. I’ve only shared with others some of what I’ve written so far, but the feedback has been so positive I am thoroughly encouraged.
I think that’s what nanowrimo is all about – enabling you to get to the place where you can say to yourself “I believe I can do this”.
It’s been quite a month!