November means Nanowrimo

November is National Novel Writing Month and as the beginning of the winter season – the time to hunker down and get creative.
Nanowrimo began in 1999 as an online challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I first did it in 2007 and then again a few years later as a way of getting the first draft of my novel, Dark Water down on the page. Having spent months faffing about with ideas, I found it a great way to focus, throw caution to the wind and just get a habit going. 

Why Do It?

I find the process cathartic and hopeful – it’s just one month, if it doesn’t work, what have you lost? For me it is a month of taking the pressure off. Because you have to get the words down every day – all 1677 of them, every single day, there is no time to think about quality – no one is going to judge your spelling and punctuation. I think the first time I did it, there were three commas and two full stops in the whole thing!
Secondly and very importantly, because you cannot judge yourself or the quality of your work, you have to just get out of the damn way of yourself. There is no room for being ‘writerly’ or clever, no time to think about whether this is the right genre for the moment or if you’ll ever sell the idea. You have to come to the page just as yourself, and this is when you discover your voice. 
Thirdly, you have to get into a system or routine to get those words down. They are just not going to write themselves, so you carve out bits of time, you sneak notes down in meetings to add to your word count later, you dictate into your phone, you scrawl on post it notes. Then you switch off Facebook or Twitter or whatever you are mindlessly scrolling these days so you can get these ideas onto the page.

But 50,000 words is not a novel! I hear you say.

No, but it is often a story, bare arsed and in need of some dressing up, but definitely there. You can’t help yourself, I promise you, if you turn up each day, the story will come. There will be days, particularly around end of week 2, when you think everything you are writing is dross – and I’ll not lie, it probably is. There will be a moment when you feel like you are at the end and no where near 50,000 words and you’ll tell yourself you are a short story writer. If you are, great, I am happy for you, BUT, there’s a chance you’re not, there’s a chance you just need to up the anti, make things more difficult for your hero or heroine, throw them into the maelstrom, and suddenly you’ve got loads more plot to write so you can get them out again.

Plan or no plan?

I’m starting off with a synopsis an idea and some characters already lurking in my brain this time and hoping I’ll have a rough draft at the end of this particular rainbow, but if I haven’t, that’s fine, at least I will have given my ideas an airing and I’ll know what doesn’t work. More importantly, I’ll be back in the habit of daily word counts and turning up and that, my friends, is where the real gold is.

Published by Sara Bailey

Writer and Programme Leader for the degree in Creative Writing at University of Highlands & Islands

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