How to write a novel in a month…

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

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, but it doesn’t need to be a novel. It can be a memoir, a collection of short stories, non-fiction.

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 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 the 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 Want You Back was 2016’s project even though I was on Milford Track with access to no technology for a week of that month. As an aside, that year I only managed 30,000 words in the month.

Most of the first draft of Happy Ever After was written during November 2017, Careful What You Wish For in 2018 and last year’s project was Escape To Curlew Cottage. And yes, I was working a day job. My point? If you want to do it badly enough you can. And, in full disclosure, I didn’t get to the 50,000 work mark last year, but I finished November with almost 40,000 words more than I started it.

Should you enter? Yes. Especially if:

  • You’ve been talking about writing a book someday forever 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 flipping 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.
  • You might get to the end of November and decide that even though you’ve always wanted to write, perhaps long-form isn’t for you. A bit like having “run a marathon” on your bucket list and realising that a 5km or 10km or a nice long walk is more your thing. You might decide you’re more suited to more immediate or short-form writing eg articles, blogs. There is no right or wrong – or judgement – associated with this…and the best part is you have a whole month to find out and once you know, well, you know.
  • It never needs to be seen by anyone other than yourself. The book I wrote in 2009 was absolute rubbish. 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. Anyways, that character – my runaway astrologer Alice – has her own story, It’s In The Stars. I’m on track to have the first draft of that completed by the end of October.
  • 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 each chapter using a pop song as a prompt. I wrote 3 different viewpoints in I Want You Back –  and then started all over again in December because it just didn’t work for me.
  • 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. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get to 50,000 words.
  • 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’m heading back to Brookford in The Cotswolds. That means more baking, more characters and more research. I’m actually considering plotting this one too. Shock. Horror.

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’ll be keeping myself accountable with daily updates on my Facebook page, so feel free to play along there – the more the merrier.

To help you prepare I’ll be posting every Wednesday leading up to November. So, what do you say? Who wants to write a book with me?