As I explained in my post at the beginning of last month, this year for the first time I decided to try and write a first draft of a novel during the month of November. It was all part of the #NaNoWriMo initiative, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s been going since 1999 but I first heard about it at the start of October so spent three weeks planning and re-planning a plot as best I could.
Week 1: It begins
By November 1st I was raring to go. I had pages and pages of handwritten scribbles on characters and chapters. I divided the story up into 25 chapters, each comprising three sub-chapters so I could ensure the plot and character development was constantly pushing along. I had two main concerns coming into the month: that my plot wouldn’t fill the 50,000 word target (I really didn’t want to pad only to edit huge chunks out after November), and that I had too many protagonists.
I read up on lots of writing advice, having never attempted to write a novel draft before. I heeded most of it but cautiously ignored the stick to 2-3 main protagonists rule. It was going to be tricky but I knew that was the only way my story, Some Hero, would work. And anyway, all advice usually ended with don’t worry about the advice of others too much, just write and enjoy it.
In the first week I participated in a fair few #NaNoWordSprints where I challenged other NaNo-ers on Twitter to write as many words as possible in 30 minutes. It was one of many great encouragements offered by the helpful and friendly NaNoWriMo website. That encouraged me to knuckle down in bursts and the little and often approach saw my word count progressing nicely. I was lucky enough to only be working part time in November this year – I must admit it would have been near impossible to write a novel had I been working 70+ hour weeks like I was for most of 2014 at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Week 2: Marching ahead
In the second week I realised I was slightly behind my initial target of writing a chapter a day as the earlier chapters turned into monsters. It dawned on me that this book was on target to be well over 50,000 words, quashing all my prior concerns of not having enough material. Like a Tardis, my plot was bigger on the inside.
I decided at this stage that my goal was now not just to finish 50,000 words in November, but finish the novel, even if it took 100,000 words, which it was almost on course to take at one stage. I also decided to start only writing what needed to be in the book and to actively try to reduce waffle. There was no need to pad if I was already on course to hit over 50,000 words with my plot.
To counter the fact that I was slipping behind in my chapter-a-day goal, I spent the 10th November sat at my laptop all day and smashed out a whopping 10,500 words. I had a headache by the end of it but it was worth it. I was back on track in terms of chapters and well ahead in terms of word count.
Week 3: Manflu vs Novel
At the start of week three I hit 40,000 words, an amazing achievement given the first half of the month was only just finishing. I think in retrospect I got smug and complacent at this stage and when I got ill for the next eight or nine days, I let my progress really slow up. I knew I was ahead of most other NaNo-ers but I forgot the golden rule: you’re only against yourself.
Meanwhile I was still challenging myself by throwing curveballs into my plot. If I got inspired or had a weird dream or observed something odd on a train journey, I wrote it down and found a way to fit it in the novel somewhere to keep things fresh. The book was growing still though, at 45,000 words I still had a third of the chapters to go.
Week 4: Accidentally hitting Delete
When I hit 50,000 words at the start of week four, I felt good but I didn’t feel like I was done. I had let being ill get in the way of writing mentally and I knew I’d be disappointed if I didn’t finish the novel by November 30th.
On November 25th I had a major psychological setback. I used a great little piece of software called Scrivener to write my novel – it breaks the chapters and sub-chapters up for you so you don’t have a big unwieldy Word document to scroll through when you want to quickly cross-reference earlier parts of the book you have written. Being new to Scrivener I didn’t know how to check how many words I had written just on that day, so deleted a couple of sub-chapters of text with a view to checking the word count and then hitting Edit-Undo to get them back. For some reason, the Edit-Undo bit was playing game so I closed the application, being careful not to hit Save before doing so. Little did I know that Scrivener was set to automatically save every time the application closed, so I lost huge chunks of my hard work.
It was only a couple of hours of writing if that, but psychologically it was a blow. It took me two days to re-write because it was a crucial point in the story, and I was livid at myself for making an avoidable mistake purely through not understanding the software. In the end though, I think the re-write of those sub-chapters was better than the original that got deleted, but it did push me tight up against my deadline for the final run-in.
Week 5: The desperate fight for glory
With two days to go I was back to 51,000 words but there were still five chapters to go. That’s 20% of the book! Suddenly the pressure was on and I was rueing every missed opportunity for writing earlier in the month. 50,000 words was a colossal achievement but I so desperately wanted to finish my novel in November. If not now, when? Something told me I’d never get round to finishing, let alone editing, if I failed at this final step.
On the final afternoon, there were four chapters to go and ten hours to write them in. It was a struggle at times but as the hours ticked by I realised that I was on schedule to just, just, finish on time if I was lucky.
I wrote my 60,902nd and final word at 23:57. I had done it.
Or so I thought.
A quick check on the NaNo website told me I had to ‘validate’ my novel to be an official Winner. I had two minutes to copy and paste my full 60,000 word manuscript into the box and click Validate.
Except I still didn’t know Scrivener very well and I sure as hell didn’t have time to copy and paste 75 sub-chapters into the same document. After almost accidentally selecting the Print option at first, I found an option to compile the chapters into a plain Text document. Fortunately this only took about 15 seconds and then I was able to copy and paste the full text into NaNoWriMo‘s box on the website and hit Validate.
I did it with seconds to spare.
Up popped a Winner banner, Winner social media buttons and a video of the crew at NaNo HQ shouting ‘you did it!’ and cheering. It felt like New Year’s Eve, celebrating midnight like that.
I was relieved, elated and overwhelmed.
I was a Winner.
Now what the hell am I going to do with my life?
Oh yeah, editing. Well it was only a first draft…