By: Maria Herring
As all teachers throughout time and space know, the end of any term is always the quietest period in the scholastic calendar.
It was 29th October 2017, I was slap-bang in the middle of my half-term holiday (or vacances de Toussaints, as we call it over here in France), and all I kept thinking was, “How can I make the half-term leading up to the Solstice celebrations more interesting for myself…?”
National Novel Writing Month, of course! Now, I’ve known about this for aaaages, because I’m a writer who does novels, but I’ve always said, “Whaaaat? That’s way too hard!” because this is what it is:
Write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.
That’s 30 days.
I can hear you saying, “But, Maria, that’s only 1,667 words a day!” And you’re right, it is. But if you miss a day, it accumulates. Miss another… I’m telling you, it’s not as easy it looks on (blog) paper.
And that’s why I said, “Right! This year I’m going to do it!” So I signed up there and then, with only two-and-a-bit days to go until it started.
And that’s how I, an English Language teacher, spent ALL of November outside the classroom—writing the first 50,000 words of a brand-spanking-new science fiction novel.
Spoiler alert: I totally nailed it and won!
The First Thing I Learnt: Kick-start a Brand New Project.
Pre NaNo November, I hadn’t written anything for months and months and months. In October, I’d rebooted my private tuition company in the Mont d’Or, which was pretty hectic; in September, we’d moved back to France from England, and were so exhausted by it that we went in holiday to Italy; in August I was packing up two years’-worth of stuff from my Bristol home (read: sitting in cafés with all my favourite family and friends and constantly exclaiming, “These two years have gone by so quickly!”); in July I was marking GCSE papers; June was when my students sat their GSCEs and A Levels… Do you know what? Apart from a short story for the North Bristol Writers upcoming Tales from the Graveyard anthology, I don’t think I wrote any fiction in 2017!
Enter NaNo November! A vague idea for a possible novel was floating around in my head, but I didn’t know what the story was, who the characters were… Actually, all I had in my head was quantum mechanics and ghosts. Not a lot to go on. But thanks to NaNo, my story grew from desperation! The NaNo challenge forced me to think about it every day, to get those words down—and it worked! My ideas and writing hadn’t dried up after all!
On Sunday, 19th November 2017, I wrote 5,653 words—in one day! I learned two new things about myself that day: 1) I love deadlines, and 2) I’m quite competitive. Who knew?
The Third Thing I Learnt: You Don’t Need to Write Every Day to Win.
Every November, several family members have their birthdays. This meant, there were a couple of weekends when I either only wrote a few hundred words or I didn’t write anything at all. You see where those chocolate sticks don’t meet the line on the graph? Those were the weekends when writing was minimal. I’ll admit to feeling a bit panicky about that because of the two new things I’d recently learnt about myself re: deadlines and competitiveness, but in the end it didn’t matter. I dug deep, pulled out the words, and completed the challenge.
The Fourth Thing I Learnt: Forcing Yourself to Write Every Day Does Stuff to Your Imagination.
I’m usually a plotter and a planner. I’ve never started writing a novel until I had at least one notebook filled with info for me to continually refer back to. This time I had to pants it. Actually, I pantsed it, because after a day of writing, I’d spend the evening jotting down what could happen next. Still, for me, that was definitely seat-of-the-pants novel writing, and I’ll tell you something: it was pretty liberating!
The Fifth Thing I Learnt: Winning Badges is the Best!
The Sixth Thing I Learnt: You CAN Switch Off Your Inner Editor.
There’s no time for constant perfection throughout—the deadline is looming! You have to meet that daily word-count target or you’ll miss it! Switching that grammar-bitch off for thirty days? That was pretty liberating too.
The Seventh Thing I Learnt: Statistics (is easier to write than say) Rule!
You see that little statistic thingy there? It’s a running total, and it’s an awesome motivator. It does air-punching wonders to see your word total go up on a daily basis, and winning all of those milestone badges is epic. I really want a statistic thingy for my regular writing.
So there are all the things I learnt from taking part in NaNoWriMo 2017. I’m definitely going to do NaNo 2018. If you haven’t already had a go at it, I urge you to do so!
PS: All of the images are screenshots from the NaNoWriMo.org website. Except for the cover of my new book. Fab did that: