I wrote a novel in a month

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I’ve always been against the notion that short stories are the training wheels for writing a novel. I’ve also said that I may someday write a novel. The two forms are different, but not entirely unconnected. Well guess what . . .

I’ve had an idea for a novel kicking around for a year, and have spent the last two months living the research for it. First, I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, then I spent a month working in a hostel in Morocco. I can’t give away exactly how these things are connected to my book, but I can say that it’s about a hostel owner who wants to be a comedian but he’s not very funny, and his life starts to fall apart.

Essaouira
The roof terrace overlooking the sea in Essaouira

The novel was already planned, mapped and ready for months of procrastination and tortuously slow construction. Then it hit me – why not participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and get it done double quick?

NaNoWriMo is a challenge for writers each November. It’s a crowdfunded organisation which offers advice and support to participants. The goal is to write 50,000 words on your work in progress in thirty days. That’s 1,667 words per day. This doesn’t sound like a huge amount, and is entirely achievable, but that’s thirty days, every day.

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My NaNoWriMo statistics of words written per day

I’m happy to say I managed it. Being the ‘do just enough’ type – my first draft came in at 51,000 words. Here’s some of the things I learned from the process.

  • Deadlines work. The fear of getting behind on the word count means you will reach your goal whether you have a clear schedule, or you are on a bumpy eight hour bus with no WiFi.
  • A support network is essential, whether it is friends, family, or internet folk. The more people I told about my challenge, the more real it became. I was going to do it. I treated like a job that needed completing before anything else.
  • I’m a plantser. That means neither a ‘planner’ nor a ‘pantser’ (a person who writes by the seat of their pants). I did as much planning as I could bear, but many of the characters, events and motivations changed during the process.
  • I can write fast. Normally I might write a thousand words a week, maybe two thousand. That is of course, working on independent short stories which take more head space. I can do it, but I prefer to give the words more time to percolate in my brain.
  • Living your story in such an intense way can be dangerous. Terrible things happen to main characters, and when you are too involved (it’s written in the first person), the narrative can take its toll on you. It’s time to step back for a few weeks.
  • NaNoWriMo will not give you a first draft. Really, it is a skeleton draft, which means structure, and functional prose. I’m planning on working on it for another six months, to get it ready for submission.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know what I’m capable of in terms of writing, and can beat myself up if I don’t reach my objectives. Every now and then, it is important to celebrate success like ‘winning’ National Novel Writing Month.
  • I’ll always need a new challenge. At this time, it’s writing a novel. I’m sure I’ll write more, but I’m also certain I won’t outgrow short stories. My number one goal is still to bring my second collection to publication.
  • Readers like a personal touch. In my time in Morocco, I did two live readings, sold some copies of Foreign Voices and talked to lots of people about short stories and writing in general.

Thank you to the folks at NaNoWriMo and to all the others who have supported me through this process. As ever, I’ll keep everyone updated with any writing news. I’ll have a Tall Travels update soon, too.

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