How to write a novel in a month – and why you should …

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 marathon for writers.

By the end of November, our poor little 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 in the writing around life – because it doesn’t stop. For those of us with kids, November is the time of the year when end-of-year exams, end-of-year performances, and presentation nights all start to fill up the calendar. In addition, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities.

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 and most of my books began their bookish lives during November.

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 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’s one month where you can experiment with different genres, and 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 backward. The year I wrote Baby, It’s You, I wrote to a playlist. Wish You Were Here began as a series of blog posts written by a fictional character for a fictional garden centre based as I read a River Cottage cookbook in a cottage in The Cotswolds. My point is, because it is only a month, you can experiment with 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. 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.
  • 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.

This year I’ll be writing a prequel to the first Whale Bay mystery and so far all I know is that it stars Rose Lennox and is set to an 80s beat.

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 updating my Facebook and Instagram posts daily with word counts and also let you know how I’m travelling in the weekly Writer’s Digests, so if you feel like giving it a go yourself, let me know!