NaNoWriMo: how to write a novel in a month

Ah, National Novel Writing Month, we meet again. 30 days, 50,000 words, and one magnificent, mercurial and utterly mad muse at the heart of it.

credit: hrscene

While I do consider myself something of a veteran (this will be my sixth year), every year still brings the same mix of trepidation and gibbering excitement. After last year, the former is marching out with particular force; an attempt to abandon my usual strategy of meticulous planning and forethought in the name of a writing detox resulted in a pair of deeply undernourished half-novels that have been sulking in my Works In Progress folder ever since, occasionally making sad puppy noises as they try to avoid being squashed underfoot by their bigger, pushier littermates.

This year, however, I am going back to basics. You see, a few fateful Novembers ago, I embarked on the first draft of a genre-bending mess of a novel that swiftly grew into an all-consuming life project. I now not only have that messy first draft, but an assortment of maps, historical references, religious doctrine, plot potentialities and innumerable scrawly Post-It notes cursing the difficulties of trying to built a historically-inspired economy in a setting that also includes semi-divine ninja priests.

The real challenge, of course, lies ahead – reforming that mess, and that enormous pile of notes, into something vaguely resembling a story.

Whether the results are J.R.R. Tolkien or Jeepers-Are-You-Joking remains to be seen. But that, as ever, is the nub of the matter. In a life full of distractions, diversions and tasty snacks, setting aside an entire month to the commitment of writing is inspiration like no other. They’ve even got a little graph and word-o-metre to fuel my inner demented completionist, the canny cretins.

You see, in many ways, the “NaNoWriMo” banner is somewhat inaccurate. The even is, in fact, worldwide, and the project you choose to work on may not be a novel in the most technical sense (or, really, in any sense at all). But it is absolutely a month, and it is absolutely devoted to writing.

That’s not to say that NaNo will give you a masterpiece – because it’s not supposed to. It is more likely to be a mess; rushed, inconsistent and riddled with baleful comments from you the author at the point where you realised you’d written your characters up a creek lacking not only a paddle, but that you also left the canoe behind three chapters ago to make room for more puns. You wouldn’t even be upset, but they weren’t even very good puns – and the whole book at large is much the same.

But what you will have, my friends, is words. Words that may one day grow into a masterpiece, your magnum opus, the great envoy from the world of genius that will shake the earth with its footsteps and produce a rain of delicious chocolate strawberries every time someone strokes the spine. Or maybe it will just be the little kick in the butt you need to realise that you can finish that book that’s been haunting your nightmares since you started it during a boring Maths lesson in Year Eight.

Sound enticing? If you’ve ever set pen to paper, it should. Come on in, friends. Join up online. Set up a profile. Make some friends. Type, scribble, gibber, cry, prance, and screech across the forums when December is only a week away and you’re still 10,000 words from the finishing line.

You might love it, you might hate it – but you absolutely will not regret it.

Charley Robson

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