Write a novel in a month? You have to be joking.
There’s a certain amount of pressure on indie authors these days to churn out several books a year. (Never mind the quality, feel the width.) If you believe some of the hype coming usually from the US there are self published writers out there earning zillions, because they’re writing a dozen books a year, in series, therefore building a ‘platform’ and a loyal readership.
There is sense in this, though for many of us the words ‘platform’ and ‘entrepreneur’ – another favourite – fill us with fear and trembing. Most indie authors don’t make much money, or expect to. We write because we want to write, because, perhaps, we are vain enough to think other people might be prepared to devote a few hours to reading what we have to say. No matter how shy you might be it is true to say you’ve got be quite arrogant to be a writer.
NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – began a few years ago, in the US of course. The idea is you register on the website and over the 30 days of November you churn out 50,000 words – which is not quite a novel but is quite an achievement. It works out at just under 2,000 words a day.
I’d known about NaNoWriMo for a while but thought it was nothing more than a gimmick with an ugly name. But this year, it being November and not a lot going on, I thought I’d give it a go. We’re only a week in but here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
- If you are a fastidious writer who likes to waste time going over your first 20 pages until you’re blue in the face, this is for you.
- If you are easily distracted, can’t wait to sharpen pencils or clean the windows or more likely glance quickly at Facebook, this is for you.
- If you are full of doubt about your ability to write in the first place, or to build a plot or create characters, this is for you.
- If you are inclined to spend a ridiculous amount of time researching, both before and during the writing process, because you really really have to get it right, this is for you.
I am all of these things. That’s partly why it took me six years to write my first book (The Worst Country in the World – though here was a lot of genuine research involved in this) – and a couple of years to write my second (The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday, absolutely no excuses there). The novel I’m embarking on as part of NaNoWriMo features a character in my last book, as it happens, which makes it part of a series as it happens. But I have absolutely no idea how my story is going to proceed, I have no plan, every day I’m starting out with an empty screen and a blank mind.
Knowing you’re expected to produce all those words, every day of the week, is liberating. It liberates you from going over and over that difficult passage that quite likely will be jettisoned from the final draft of your book anyway. It frees you from having to research every item, moment in history or, in my case, actual person, and then finding it impossible not to include everything you’ve learned just to show off. It frees you from dithering – shall we switch to a passionate romance in the South of France in the next chapter or shall we stage a momentous marital row leading to divorce? – stalled by thinking the decision you make is crucial, and irrevocable.
Whether or not you, or I, end up with any kind of a product at the end of the month isn’t really the point. What is exciting about writing is discovery. You wake up in the morning without an idea in your head and a couple of hours later, there you are with a brand new character doing stuff you never dreamed you would dream up in a million years. It’s childish in some ways, in the best ways, playing with your imagination and seeing where it will take you. Writing through (is it through or by?) the seat of your pants as the expression goes may not suit every writer. But I would actually recommend it, even to the meticulous planners, if only as an experiment. You might surprise yourself. Which is ultimately what writing is all about.