Two weeks ago I joined more than 300,000 writers around the world at the starting line of a huge challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days. So what has the first half of National Novel Writing Month delivered? Have my hopes and expectations been fulfilled? The answer is yes and no.
Being my second year as a participant I had some idea of what to expect and I had planned to write something every day. My goal was to keep up with the magic NaNoWriMo word count line that shows the average daily goal to hit the target. But life doesn’t work in simple averages.
At the time of writing just before the halfway point, my count is just under 16,400 words, about 5,000 short of my target. I’m proud of that achievement given the challenges of mixing parenthood with writing and other writing related jobs, plus a few unexpected hurdles. I am learning the world doesn’t stop because I’ve decided to write a lot in a short amount of time.
Over the past few years I’ve worked collaboratively with quite a few writers and it seems to me that most people fall into four categories; those who prefer starts, those who like writing the action, dialogue experts and the writers who enjoy endings – I am the latter, I love endings! So as you can imagine, faced with the pressure of starting my novel without the luxury of time to agonise over it was something akin to a waking nightmare. It didn’t matter how many times I recited Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote, “the first draft of anything is s**t”, without the right start I knew I’d end up going back to change things as the story took hold (a cardinal sin in NaNoWriMo). So I tried a technique a writer friend had suggested. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and asked permission to enter my world and see what my characters were up to. I had a basic idea of what, where and when, but I didn’t know what mood they were in, or how they would start the day that would change everything. Instead of trying to force my mind to know it, I hoped that perhaps I’d find them on the right day at the right time. Regardless I’d decided whatever I saw in my mind and felt at that moment would be my beginning for now, I would just start to write. To my absolute amazement it worked! I was off. I had my first checkpoint, my inciting incident and with my eye on that goal I found the story unraveling before me. Then life threw in a few speed bumps.
As well as NaNo, this month I am preparing to launch two award-winning books I co-authored with other wonderful writers from the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group. Planning and preparing to bring our children’s novels to the public has been a huge learning curve, which includes layouts, design, editing, marketing and publicity, venue organisation, catering and much more.
I’m also the editor of a quarterly magazine for writers and our print deadline is the 25th of November. Not the best timing! The life of a writer is far from simple, but it is very exciting.
As the calendar ticked over into week two, I decided I needed a strategy change. I was getting stressed when my ‘write every day’ plan didn’t work. Instead I decided to try a combination of writing marathons and short writing sprints and it’s working! I’m now writing on whatever device I can get my hands on at the time, iPad, iPhone and desktop (thank goodness for cloud technology!).
The washing is still overflowing, dinners have been simple and the house is a mess, but I am now managing to write almost every day, and every day it is getting easier. My story now hovers constantly in my mind, like a movie paused until I sit down again to press play and let it move on. Every day I follow my friend’s advice and use a short focus exercise to return to that moment where I left my characters. Then when I did get time, after a few days, to check my word count, I was thrilled to see I had even made up serious ground – more than 11,000 words. Wow!
I’m not saying there haven’t been many days when I’ve given myself a firm forehead slap and wondered what I was thinking. I don’t remember feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted last year. On those days in particular, once the kids were in bed, I still forced myself to sit down and write. The minutes would slip by and I’d feel my heart racing as my main character faced a new hurdle or discovered new friends. I wrote until my eyes were blurring and my stomach rumbling. Then I’d look up dazed to find myself back in my office, not surrounded by trees or mountains and I’d smile. In that place between the real and imaginary I’d remember why it was all worth it in the end.