When you start the second novel you bring with you the determination not to repeat the same mistakes of the first. The enthusiastic, first-time novelist is so thrilled to have finally completed her labour-of-love that she remains blissfully unaware that she might be guilty of breaking any of the writing ‘rules.’ It sounds naïve, but as someone freed from the prescriptive constraints of writing screenplays, I thought that writing a novel was liberating – that you could do just about anything you liked. I didn’t even know what ‘head-hopping’ was, or why too much narrative summary might be a problem. I knew the principles of ‘show not tell,’ – it sounds so deceptively simple in theory, but is oh so much harder to achieve in practice.
As I began to work on the writing of this new novel I was keen to do things a little differently the second time round. Fortunately for me, just as I was starting to struggle, The Guardian published an extract from Karen Wiesner’s book, First Draft in 30 Days. It is a schematic plan for writing a novel, with work sheets to guide you step-by-step through the process.
Although a structured method might not work for every writer, it must have worked for Wiesner: she’s had 90 books published in the past 14 years. As someone who has taken six years to write their first novel, that seems like an incredible achievement. I would dearly love to write more quickly and after reading through the extract from the writing book, I couldn’t help but think that Wiesner might be on to something.
I kept Wiesner’s booklet for reference, thinking that it would be useful – but I was yet to commit to such a tight writing deadline. And then as luck would have it, I was sent a reminder email that NaNoWriMo was due to start in November and was I up to the challenge?
The NaNoWriMo challenge – in case you don’t know, is ‘thirty days (and nights) of literary abandon’ in which you are required to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in the 30 days during the month of November. That works out at around 1700 words a day, every day.
Although you might be a little late now to start on NaNoWriMo – unless you can write fast, you can start the 30-day method at any time, and the worksheets can be downloaded from: guardian.co.uk/how-to-writesign-in.
I don’t mind admitting that I’ve found this first weekend a struggle. The little voice in my head kept saying, ‘come on, it’s the weekend. Everyone needs one day off a week.’ I told that little voice to shut up and go away – for now. So I intend, if I can, to try to write a few more words every day in the next five days and build up some ‘word credits’ so that I can stockpile them in case of a lapse in will-power over the next three weeks.
During the challenge life goes on and meals still have to be made, food has to be shopped for and houses have to be cleaned. Children, partners and pets still have to be cared for as well and even though you’d rather be writing, there’s the day job to go to.
What has impressed me most though is the dedication of so many of the NaNoWriMo challengers, who are prepared to do what it takes to get the work done, whether that means getting up long before it gets light, or burning the midnight oil.
No-one is pretending that you can write a completed novel in 30 days as the first draft, in the NaNoWriMo example, is one where no editing is done until after the challenge finishes. You can take the competitive side of it as seriously or as lightheartedly as you like. I like the challenge as I find that knowing that so many other people are taking part motivates me to strive that little bit harder, in the same way that a group exercise class does.
What I like too is that the 30 day time scale is relatively short and it challenges assumptions that puts off many would-be novelists, who say that they can’t possibly write a novel as they don’t have time. What’s humbling about NaNoWriMo is that nobody else really has the time either – but instead of using that as an excuse they just get on with it. I don’t know about you but I find that very inspiring.