Regular readers may recall (and are perhaps a little tired of reading about), my participation in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last November, in which I managed to complete the goal of writing a 50,000 novel by month’s end. My continued posts on this topic are indicative of two things — one, it’s not entirely over; and two, as a prompt, my winner’s T shirt recently arrived.
My original plan to write a follow-up post in December failed to eventuate. Simply put, I needed a break from the whole thing. So now, in the official NaNoWriMo “Now What?” months of revision, editing and publishing, it is time for me to revisit the story.
Upon taking a break, I am now looking forward to hopefully improving on the original draft. Achieving the goal of 50,00 words did not come without a few learnings and realisations along the way, some of which I thought worth sharing.
- there is nothing like attempting a 50,000 word novel to become acquainted with an app you’ve not used before, and Ulysses III was a standout here;
- a hat tip to author David Hewson (Twitter, Web), whose tips (particularly the story bible and keyword filters) from his ebook Writing a Novel With Ulysses III were invaluable in assisting my efforts;
- although unrelated, using the Ulysses iPad app (currently in beta) for a month or so would suggest developer The Soulmen will also be on a winner for those wishing to write on iOS
- conversely, when struggling with a scene or plot idea, more often than not, pen and paper sparked an idea to pull me through1
The Ideas – or lack thereof
Upon starting on November 1, I had ideas. In my mind (and transferred to a mind map) was a basic plot outline and the semblance of characters. Exactly where they would take me as the story progressed was another matter entirely. There were many times I ran into an idea block, however found the following to be of assistance:
- a written summary or debrief at the end of a writing session often generated a flurry of ideas about the next few scenes or the overall progression of the story (a what just happened generating a what will or should happen of sorts);
- when stuck for ideas, progression was often made through either a break from writing, or brainstorming with pen and paper — the frustrating part being I never pinned down which would necessarily work on a particular day;
- my best ideas (as always) tended to strike at random times, so a quick entry in my Field Notes or the Drafts app on my phone was essential to avoid losing them, for even a minute or two later I often had a hard time remembering that “killer” idea.
Participating in a Creative Writing Challenge
I still do not have the answer to what made me think I had enough creative ability to undertake such a project. The argument here being anybody could — the difference? Quality of the output I imagine. In my case for the past 25 years, my writing has centred around the following:
- University papers and reports (science/medical/allied health based);
- treatment reports and correspondence (as above);
- file notations and forensic analysis of medical reports;
- management, financial, and general business reporting
As you can probably guess, my career progression has followed down the list, with my current role involving the last two points on a daily basis. Nothing in the list above strikes me as being overly creative in nature, however in some respects it is all writing, and involves planning, organisation, structure, and clarity of both thought and delivery.
The chance to write more creatively was likely one of the reasons I committed to the attempt. I am certainly not of the belief I have a “killer novel” somewhere inside me. I simply enjoy writing, and hopefully have a little talent, that with some practice, research and patience, I may be able to develop further.
Some additional points on this:
- who knew that working for my entire adult life in “non creative” writing would leave me so deficient in knowledge around punctuation, sentence structure, and many other things real writers simply know (I was actually quite appalled at the number of things incorrect or required clarification before proceeding);
- I am currently at a loss as to where to even begin to re-learn many of these aspects from my schooling;
- it was around the 42,000 word mark I felt I really found my creative voice, making it difficult to wrap up the story, and resulting in the finished draft coming in at 55,000 words;
- for someone who has not attempted such a challenge before, 50,000 words (or the magical 1,667 per day) is a great length — achievable though certainly not easy;
- deadlines are good, otherwise I would never have finished;
- deadlines are bad, as I definitely got less sleep, less physical activity, and spent less time with my (thankfully very understanding) family members during November
Although I posted a few word count updates to Twitter, and wrote the blog posts I mentioned above, in my physical world, only my family and a very small number of friends were aware of my participation as it was underway.
The support received from my family was expected — to a degree, however went above and beyond, through extensive and unwavering words of encouragement; understanding at my constant desk-bound position; the expert editorial services provided by my ex-schoolteacher mother (a constant source of advice around some of those appalling gaps in my knowledge I mentioned earlier); and general excitement at the prospect of reading the finished product.
A little unexpected was the level of enthusiasm shown by the few friends also following along as the month progressed. Requests for word count updates; the “have you written today?” queries; genuine excitement at my synopsis and various plot “leaks”; and sincere requests for a copy to read once I was done.
It would be disrespectful to those involved to say the above was a complete surprise, however the enthusiasm shown by those supporting me (both family and friends) was touching to say the least.
Now that I have that first draft in my hand, it is time to revise and edit, taking into account feedback from those who have read the draft (and in my teenage daughter’s case, kindly made extensive margin notes — and I mean a lot!).
I am also in the process of taking advantage of the deals on offer through the winners page on the NaNoWriMo site, including a printed copy of the novel through Blurb, which is a nice bonus. Also, catching a glimpse of the online writing community was also an eye-opener, and from what I saw, it is a pretty impressive one.
I certainly have a reinvigorated respect for those I consider real writers. As far as I am concerned, I wrote the draft of a novel here, however most certainly do not consider myself any sort of creative writer — however one may be defined. This is perhaps something I need to think a little more about, and work a little more on, however on current form, my mind keeps returning to the following from a book review in The Guardian recently shared by Matt Gemmell (one of the real writers) on Twitter:
He is probably a nice man. He obviously cares deeply about these great historical movements and has done a great deal of research — my God, he has researched and researched and researched. But on the evidence of The Book of Kings, he could not write ‘Bum’ on a wall.
Finally, NaNoWriMo provided me with a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about my creative talents, workflows, and how my tools work (or don’t) for me, in a deadline driven, fairly intense challenge. Learning just as much about myself in the process, I highly recommend NaNoWriMo if you even have half an inkling to undertake such a project — and perhaps you do have that killer novel inside you.
After all, it is for a great cause, and remember, although many are — you don’t even need to be a real writer.
- Although the benefits of using pen and paper for brainstorming ideas are well documented, I cannot help but think this very common occurrence in my writing was also due to my inexperience in producing such a large body of work (for me) in a digital format ↩