Why you should write a novel in November

So anyways, November is around the corner…and if November is around the corner, so too is NaNoWriMo. Nano wtf? National Novel Writing Month.

Essentially the challenge is to, along with a few hundred thousand other people, get 50,000 words out of your head and onto a page – or a laptop -during the month of November. It’s a bit like a novel writing marathon.

By the end of November, our poor little novel writer’s wrists are burning, our eyelids need propping open, our body fluids have been gradually replaced by copious amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and most of us have hit a wall at some point through the process. In our case the “wall” isn’t extreme physical exhaustion (although it can be) – more often it’s a blank screen, or page.

The hardest part of the process by far is fitting writing a novel in around life – because, as we know, it doesn’t stop just because we’ve committed to writing a novel. For those of us with kids, November is the time of the year where end of year exams and end of year performances and presentation nights all start to fill up the calendar. In addition, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities. We don’t have time to add writing a novel to that list. Do we?

So, if it’s that flipping hard, why do we do it? To be honest, asking a writer that question is a little like asking a marathoner why they lace up the trainers to put their bodies through 42kms of pain, or asking a climber why they do Everest. The answer is simple – because it’s a challenge and it’s there.

I’ve done it most years since 2009. Each of my novels has started life during Nanowrimo. Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry were both managed while I had a full time job – with large chunks written in hotel rooms and airports during office relocation projects – and all the things that go along with being a Mum with a (then) school age child. The bulk of Wish You Were Here was written during nanowrimo in 2015 – even though I was on a road trip through Britain for the 2nd half of November.

I even signed up last year – even though I knew that I’d be on Milford Track with access to no technology for a week of the month. The first 30,000 words of I Want You Back came from that.

Should you enter? Yes. Especially if:

  • You’ve been talking about writing a book someday for ever and flipping ever
  • You’ve got a story in your head that needs to escape
  • You like a good graph

Need more convincing?

  • 50,000 words isn’t a full novel (unless you’re writing novellas, category romance or children’s books), but it’s a bloody good start.
  • It’s a great way to take a new idea for a test flight. By 50,000 words you’re going to know whether it’s got legs and, if it doesn’t, you’ve only wasted one month. In my view, that’s an efficient outcome.
  • It doesn’t need to be a novel. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about a non fiction project, a memoir, a collection of short stories or poems, a screenplay.
  • It never needs to be seen by anyone other than yourself. The book I wrote in 2009 was vaguely semi semi autobiographical shite. It will never be published – although I have used parts of it in everything I’ve written since. I’d had it in my head for so long that writing it down allowed all the other stories that had been waiting their turn behind it in my brain to come tearing out. (I think my brain is a tad like an air traffic control tower.) Anyways, that character – my runaway astrologer Alice – has her own story that I’ll be writing this year. And no, it’s no longer even vaguely semi semi autobiographical. Except for the astrologer bit.
  • It’s one month where you can experiment with different genres, different voices. Again, if it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted a month. The year I drafted Big Girls Don’t Cry, I experimented with writing as if it were a project plan ie from the end backwards. The year I wrote Baby, It’s You, I wrote to a playlist. I wrote 3 different viewpoints in I Want You Back. Because it is only a month, you can try out different techniques to get you through the wall, through the saggy middle, and to have a little fun with the process.
  • Even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, you’ll have more words at the end of November than you did at the beginning.
  • It’s great training. To be a writer you have to get in the habit of writing – every day.
  • If you’re a plotter or edit as you go, this is a great opportunity to just let the words flow. See what happens. No edits – not until December 1.
  • You get to see the graph on the nano site. It’s a great graph.
  • With nanowrimo, there’s no escape, no catch-ups. If you’ve been struggling to establish a writing habit, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Am I entering this year? Absolutely. I have Alice’s story – or the The Book After The Book That’s After I Want You Back – to tell. It’s the last in my Melbourne Girls series and will tie up any loose ends – all the way back to Baby, It’s You.

If you’re up for it, you can sign up at the official site. You’ll find forums, events, cool widgets for your blog, emails of encouragement and a cast of hundreds of thousands of other people doing it with you. I’m Astrojo, so if you’re signing up, come follow me.

Finding time to write: 5 tips to beat the excuses…

Feather pen set of abstract color

Tomorrow is November 1, ie the official start to nanowrimo.

Just lately, I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve said things like:

‘I SO want to do this. Like, seriously, really want to do this- but I just don’t have time. I have a job, you know.’

Or

‘I’m ready this year, but November is when the shit starts to hit the fan with school stuff.’

Or

‘I don’t know how people manage it. I have a family, and a job. I really want to do it- I know there’s a book in me- but I simply don’t have time.’

Here’s the thing- I know. I know all of this. I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy – in our own ways. Sometimes I think busy-ness is a competitive sport.

I have a family and work a stressful full-time job too. I’m out the door at 6.30am, and back home by 7pm. In the meantime, I have a heavy blogging schedule with the astro site, and like to keep regular posts happening on and anyways and here too. My house still needs cleaning, and clothes need washing, and shirts need ironing, and gardens need weeding, and social lives need arranging. There’s always something that has to be done. A couple of hours to sit down and write can seem like a guilty pleasure.

I used to say that I’d like to run a marathon. I said it so often that I had to enter a 10km event. Twice. Then it hit me that I didn’t really want to run a marathon- I didn’t really want to run at all. I hated it- so much I can’t put the words around it. Emily’s story in Baby, It’s You, is mine (well, the running bit is)- except that it took me longer to declare that I was never ever ever running again. Ever. A nice walk would suit me perfectly well.

The same analogy goes for writing a book. You might have been saying for years that you want to write a book. The experience of nano could help you decide if long distance writing is really for you. Or it will help you get it out of your system and convince you that the literary equivalent of a nice walk is more your style.

If you really (and I mean really) want to do nanowrimo, but have no idea how you’re going to fit it in, try these tips:

You don’t need to write 50,000 words

That’s right. You don’t. Any words you do write will be more than you had last month. Set yourself a session goal. It could be 500 words, it could be 1667…it could be somewhere in between. It’s all ok. This month I will be completely off the grid for 5 days when I’m tramping Milford Sound, and a further 3 days in the Victorian High Country. The likelihood of me making 50,000 words is slim – but, then again, I said that last year too.

Schedule your writing time

Get your calendar out and mark in all your commitments- places that you know you have to be. Be honest, and be realistic.

Maybe you can manage a half an hour in the morning before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose, or an hour at night after they go to bed. You might choose to fit it in on a weekend, or get together with friends for a marathon writing session.

However you schedule it, keep to it.

What’s my routine?

I tend to exercise first thing in the morning- at least a few mornings a week – so my alarm goes off at 4.45am. During November, I’ll use that hour to write and walk at lunchtime instead. I usually manage to write for an hour or so (in bed) each night. I write at the hairdressers, I scribble in my journal in the 15-20 mins I have every morning between getting off the bus and meeting my BMF for coffee. I grab every single minute I can.

I try and get next weeks blog posts done and scheduled on Friday evening and Saturday mornings before whatever maintenance appointment needs keeping. It’s mad, but it means I can spend time with my family on the weekend, and get my real writing done over the time that’s left.

Yes, it’s chaotic, and busy and all the rest of that, but I figure that one day (hopefully in the not too distant future) this will be my full-time job and I won’t need to fit a corporate role around it. In the meantime, I’m prepared to do what it takes to get there.

Schedule your down-time

You have to. Getting out for a walk, or a coffee or whatever will help keep the creative juices flowing- and ensure you stay sane. I tend to write to a playlist, so when I’m stuck, that music and a ramble often gets it all flowing again. If you want to stay inspired while you’re walking, podcasts are a great idea.

Limit your TV

Yes, yes, yes…but it’s only for 30 days. You can catch up on your favourite shows later. I tend to allow myself an hour a night. The same applies to internet.

Be kind to yourself

You don’t need to make like Superwoman. It’s ok if there’s a dust bunny in the corner, or a weed in the vegie patch, or leftovers for dinner or that New Moon post and newsletter. It’s ok to ask for help, and it’s ok to stand in the middle of the room when you get home and scream…or is that just me?

So, how about it? Are you in?