Writing Corner: On How NaNoWriMo Helped Me Write My First Book

Hi everyone! With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) only a week away, I thought it would be quite timely to write a post this month about it, and how it helped me with writing my first full length novel. I unfortunately won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year as I’m too busy with work to commit to it, but it really did help me with writing my novel, This Is Not A Love Story, so I wanted to talk more about it today.

I have been writing most of my life, starting when I was a little kid, but when I was a teenager, my fiction writing kind of dropped off a bit, I was mostly writing fanfic and blogging/news writing. I just didn’t have the ideas, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, I didn’t really know how to get started with fiction again, so I kind of just left it, despite my goal of eventually becoming an author not changing.

Then in 2016, I was in a meeting for the Creative Writing society I joined whilst I was at Uni & we were given a prompt of writing a story based off famous first lines from books. The one that drew me in was from Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street, “All stories are love stories”. I have for a while been quite frustrated by the overabundance of romance in YA, I understand that first love is a part of the teen experience, but it’s not part of every teen experience, it certainly wasn’t part of mine. So I set out to write something that wasn’t a love story, at least not a romantic one. I wanted to write something for teenage me, to show her that she wasn’t any lesser for not having a relationship and that it was okay not to have found “true love” at sixteen.

It was soon after I’d started writing This Is Not A Love Story that I found out about NaNoWriMo. Everyone on Book Twitter was talking about it, my friend was doing it and despite the fact that it was November and I had several essays due for Uni before the end of the semester, I decided to go for it.

It was the push I needed to actually get a novel off the ground. I had the idea, and now with NaNoWriMo and the daily word count goals, I had a reason to make sure that I got something down every day. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t write every single day, some days I just couldn’t because I had to do Uni work, some days I just didn’t have the ideas, but it definitely got me into the habit of writing regularly. I worked at a relatively steady pace throughout most of the month, with generally between 1500-3000 words a day, though there were some days were I wrote nothing, some days were I wrote very little and some days where I wrote A LOT, like on the final day where I wrote over 6000 words!

It got me in the habit of actually sitting down and making sure that I carved out time for myself to write as well. I can still go months without writing, and have done, depending on how busy I am but now I actively seek out time to write. Before I did NaNoWriMo, I was kind of, “Oh well, I’m at Uni, I’ve got things to do, I don’t have time to write”. Now, even though I work full time, whenever I have time to spare, I immediately go to writing and I definitely think that came from doing NaNoWriMo. I had to balance multiple deadlines with my NaNo project, and I still managed to get all of it done, so I realised that my “lack of time” excuse had been just that. If I wanted to, I could get the words down, no matter how busy I was, so NaNoWriMo was definitely an exercise in prioritising my writing which I desperately needed.

I work really well when I have definable goals to work towards, so NaNoWriMo really helped me in that respect, because in order to finish on time, you need to reach an average number of words a day. Some days I wrote more than that, and some days I wrote less, but I always had a definable goal for the day: like I want to finish this chapter, or I want to get to this point in the story. I got really on a roll on some days, so I would tend to just carry on until I realised I needed to do some work on my essays, or it got late! I’ve carried that on since NaNoWriMo, when I sit down to write, I always have a definable goal in mind: I want to finish this chapter, or I want to write for this long today, or even just I want to finish this portion of the story today. Sitting down in front of my laptop, knowing where I want to end the writing session is really helpful and that’s something that I learned from NaNoWriMo.

I think for me, actually getting the first words down is always the hardest thing, so I often avoid starting projects even if I have an idea for them. Actually in both years I’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’ve always had the first line, first paragraph, even in 2017, the first chapter ready to go. Still for others, who maybe don’t find starting new things quite as daunting as I do, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to kick start that novel idea that you’ve had swirling around in your brain that you just haven’t had the time to get down yet. I reckon if I do NaNoWriMo in the future, I will probably always work from something that I’ve already started, because I like to get ahead, and also because if I don’t have at least my first line down, I’ll just procrastinate starting!

My two NaNoWriMo experiences have been very different. My first year, I completed the 50,000 word goal, but I didn’t write every day. My second year, I got to just over 44,0000 words, but I did write something every day, even if it was only a couple of hundred words. I don’t think either way is better than the other, but it did show me that there is no way to really “lose” at NaNoWriMo because in both scenarios, I had more words at the end than I’d had at the beginning.

NaNoWriMo gives you the opportunity to write a really messy first draft, without that internal judgement of “Oh this isn’t good enough” because it’s not meant to be. My aim for NaNoWriMo that first year, wasn’t to write a perfect book, it was literally just to finish something. When I wrote fiction before NaNoWriMo, I had a terrible habit of starting my books and then not finishing them, even doing Fanfic, whilst I finished most of my stories, I’d start several at once, and there are quite a few still up there that are unfinished. With NaNoWriMo, I had a specific goal to work towards and a specific time limit to do it in, so I was more motivated to finish. I mean a lot of the reasons I didn’t finish any of the books I wrote as a kid, is because I was a kid and didn’t have the attention span but still!

Doing NaNoWriMo allowed me to finally get passed the “first draft” stage of writing. Before I did it in 2016, I’d never got anything far enough to require editing, but doing that intense period of writing, meant that I finally had something concrete to edit. The last three years since doing it, I’ve been refining and making the novel I wrote, This Is Not A Love Story, a far stronger version of the story than the one I wrote in 2016 was. It still has the bones of the story I wrote back then, but a LOT has changed and for the better. Still without NaNoWriMo, I would never have had a substantial enough story to edit in the first place. It really was the start of me writing with a focus towards actually getting published, as opposed to writing for fun, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t going to be for everyone. 30 days of writing is a huge time commitment, and not everyone has that time to spare, I certainly don’t this year. Some people just don’t suit that intensity of writing, and prefer to write smaller amounts over a longer period. That’s okay, you just have to find what works for you. For me, NaNoWriMo was a great way of getting my work off the ground and having something substantial to edit at the end. I would definitely recommend it to writers who are looking to start their publishing journey but have struggled with getting something substantial down, because it massively helped me: prior to 2016, I didn’t even have a first draft to edit. Fast forward three years later, I’ve not only edited TINALS, but I’ve queried it, and written almost 30,000 words of the sequel.

Has anyone else done NaNoWriMo? What have your experiences been like? Are you doing it this year? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer and would like to be featured in Writing Corner, then get in touch! I still have spots open for November and December, and will be looking for writers to feature in 2020 very soon, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, where my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can write about any topic you’d like as long as it is to do with writing, and is within 600-1000 words. I take submissions from all writers, no matter what stage of the publishing process you are at, or even if publishing isn’t your goal at all. If you write, I want to hear from you!

I should have my October Book vs Movie post up tomorrow, so if you want to read me ranting about how terrible the Percy Jackson movies were, this one is one for you! I’ll have another Writing Corner post up next month, though I’m not sure what about yet, it will depend on whether I have a guest poster, or if I’m writing it.

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