NaNoWriMo – if that looks like a whole bunch of meaningless letters, then you’re in pretty much the same position I was 6 weeks ago. I expect however, that most of you are far less ignorant than me and are fully aware that NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that occurs every November.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And for me, someone who wants to become a novel writer but has virtually no idea of how to make that happen, it seemed like a reasonable place to start.
First of all, I should say that I think NaNoWriMo is great. For one thing they let me (and thousands of other international writers) take part even though we don’t live in and have never even been to the titular nation but also there is a genuine community feel to the project. The forums are full of knowledgeable and helpful people who always have encouraging words to ease that nagging self-doubt and offer assistance in the aargghhh!, what happens now? moments.
The main focus of NaNoWriMo (according to my understanding at least) is getting the damn words on the page and this is how I have used the month. I have no intention of putting this book out into the world – that would be unfair on the world. I may subject a few close friends to its horrors but it will need a hell of a lot of rewriting before I’d even consider that. No, I wanted this to be a practice book, a safe place where I could develop the craft of novel writing without having to worry about how abysmal the thing I’m writing actually is. The story isn’t quite finished but I have passed the 50,000 word mark so I thought now might be a good opportunity to take stock and analyse the successes and failures of my efforts.
Failures (let’s start with the fun stuff)
Oh God – It’s such a mess – Yeah, so somehow my nice simple plot has become a jumble of story threads which go nowhere, reveals that reveal themselves at the wrong times and characters who I completely forgot about halfway through. I can probably tidy it up with a rewrite but it will be quite an extensive one. I know a lot of authors talk about how their stories don’t seem to come together until the second draft but surely they can’t be as fucked up as this?
Dialogue – I have these wonderful ideas for charismatic and intriguing characters yet when they speak their voices have all the emotion of a Stephen Hawking voice box. WHY WON’T YOU SPEAK LIKE PEOPLE????
Outlines – I’m still undecided on the merits of outlining. I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing and I love his idea of letting the story develop a life of its own, wandering to interesting and unpredictable places. Every time I try that though my story develops the life of a drunk, staggering from nonsensical subplot to pointless dead end. For this novel, I wrote a semi-detailed outline which I quite liked. As soon as I started typing, my drunken plotmaster took the wheel and steered it irrevocably off course. I updated the outline making adjustments for the previous derailment and again he drove it straight into a ditch. My nearly finished story bares almost no resemblance to the one I intended to write. I guess I should embrace that but surely it should stay in the same genre?
Consistency of genre – And while we’re on the topic, my story was supposed to be a comedy. It is in places. There are passages that I’m really happy with – ones that make me laugh out loud. The problem; there are whole chapters without a single amusing moment – not even a crowbared pun to give a facade of humor. For large sections, my book forgets that it’s supposed to be comedy and turns into an edge of your seat thriller, then it becomes a slightly weird science-fictiony thing, then a mystery, then it remembers it wants you to laugh and hits you with another joke. I know books can be multi-genre – good books often are – but my novel isn’t. It just forgets what it’s supposed to be and ends up being a reflection of how I was feeling on the day of writing. Again, I’m sure some of this could be ironed out in the editing process but I can’t help feeling that proper writers wouldn’t let this happen in the first place.
Word count – Probably my number one aim for NaNoWriMo was to develop a writing schedule and stick to it and it is this that I’m most pleased with. My aim at the start of the month was to write 2000 words a day and although I haven’t hit the goal every day, I have averaged slightly above it. More pleasingly, 2000 words did not feel like a massive effort. If I knew where the story was going, I could churn them out in the two hours I set aside before work each day. When actual thinking was involved, the process was slower but I could generally catch up later in the day.
Motivation – Writing this novel did not dampen my desire to write more. Yes, it was difficult at times but even as I tired of my plot and my characters, I enjoyed the process of writing. That feeling of creation can be so exhilarating.
Ideas – I don’t think I was ever in love with the plot for this novel – the premise was too simple – but the positive is all the ideas I’ve had since. As I became less enamored with my current story, a load of ideas for things I would rather be writing popped into my head. I now can’t wait to finish this story so I can get started on some of them.
My first attempt at a novel is a failure. I know that even before I finish the first draft. It is not a good book. In fact, I believe it may be a truly terrible book but despite that I am very happy. My novel may be a failure but my NaNoWriMo has been a success. I have (very nearly) written an entire book and that feels amazing. Even if it is a truly terrible book it still feels amazing. And while the book as a whole may be truly terrible, there are parts of it that aren’t. I like a lot of the writing, there are a couple of scenes which are genuinely exciting, there are some good jokes and there’s some pretty decent characterization.
More importantly, I have a better idea now of what it takes to write a novel and what I need to be able to do to write a good one. I understand my strengths better and know lots of the things at which I am utterly hopeless.
My name is Chris C Barnett and I have written a truly terrible book.
I consider that the first step of my journey to writing a good one.
Get in Contact
If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year or have done it in the past, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, if there are any real writers out there who could offer me some tips on how to write a less terrible novel next time, they would be extremely gratefully received. Please leave me a comment below.
Chris C Barnett