For the uninitiated, the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) originally started back in 1999 as a small local event in San Francisco, and has since become a behemoth of a worldwide event, where participants challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.
I first heard about this back in 2010 and thought it sounded like fun, but I didn’t take the plunge to try until 2012. I’d just moved to Oxford at the time, and had very few commitments. I found it easy to squeeze in time to write before and after work, and before too long I’d written 25,000 words.
But that is as far as I got, halfway through the month, and halfway through the word count, I stalled and ran out of things to write about. I had no idea where to go with the story and it wasn’t really working.
This year, I decided to try once again. I still wanted to use the basis of the 2012 story, but I changed it so completely that I couldn’t use any of the old content. This time I planned meticulously, I knew exactly where the story was going, chapter by chapter.
Still, I found it difficult to get all the words out and struggled to fit writing around what turned out to be a very busy month. With a week to go I was only on 20,000 words and no hope of getting much more written.
And then something strange happened. On the last weekend of November, with only two days to go, I suddenly realised I only had 5 chapters left to write. Despite the low word count, I had almost fleshed out the entire bare bones on a rough first draft.
30th November. Final day and I was on 30,000 words, but I was so close to the story finishing. I sat down on that Sunday and wrote like my life depended on it. That’s to say, I took a trip to Asda with my sister, bought crumpets, came home and drank lots of tea, watched some videos on you tube, and somehow pumped out enough words to bring my word count to a final total of 39,033 words.
So, I failed in my challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
But I didn’t fail in writing a novel.
Writing a novel is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve wanted to sit down and write a complete story from start to finish. I always write short stories, miniature stories of a few pages. But to sit down and write an entire novel – that is something completely out of my capabilities.
Or so I thought.
There aren’t enough words to win NaNoWriMo, but there was enough story to reach the end. Yes, the finished product is pretty bad. And there is the more than occasional paragraph that says “and then they argued, put something argumentative here”. But the story is there. The whole damn start to The End story is there and written down.
I am pretty proud that I managed to prove to myself I can do it. I am proud that I proved myself wrong, and that I could complete something I’ve always wanted to do. But more than that, I’m surprised that my desire to continue writing has been strengthened. I no longer feel that this story is an unfinished project, it’s just a badly told one. Surely I owe it to the figments of my imagination to tell their story better?
It took me a month to write a rough first draft of a bad novel. I wonder how long it will take me to write a second draft of an okay novel.