5 Good Things From My First 4 Days of NaNoWriMo 2011

NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in the 30 days of November. That means producing an average of 1,600 words a day, every day for a month. I’m on Day 4 (and smug about being slightly ahead of schedule) and I’ve already discovered a few things that make me glad I decided to do this insane thing.

The Joy of The First Draft

I’m a short story writer. I’ve never written anything longer than about 10,000 words. I write my short stories with love and care. There is no first draft there is just the text. I work on it and work on it, sometimes for weeks, trying to get the perfect 2,000 to 4,000 words that will tell my story in a way that gets under the skin of the reader. This is hand-crafted writing that is about making sure that there are no wasted words and no imperfect words. It is shaped and smoothed and varnished and then varnished again until, one day, often reluctantly, you have to admit that it is done and it’s time to move on.

I love that kind of writing and will never give it up but it doesn’t work for NaNoWriMo.

I feel like a cabinet maker who has agreed to build a house. My priority is to get the frame up and roof on and get everything in place that makes it a house and then finish it with love and care. But I still want the design of my house to be original and functional and to be somewhere people want to live in.

To my surprise the First Draft in 30 days thing is very liberating. I know I can make these chapters better. I can labour over them to improve the language, to ensure imagery that reflects the right mood, to deepen characterisation, sharpen dialog, and ensure plot continuity BUT I can do all of that LATER

Right now I need to pour the concrete, get the footings and the plumbing in place, raise the walls and get the damn roof on. Why? Because that’s the only way I’ll know I have a house and not a woodwork project.

I’m enjoying the freedom to discover what happens next and the pressure to move on. I have four chapters. I know I will have more. Every day.

That is a new source of joy to me.

The Linked Short Story view

It turns out that not everything about trying to write a novel is different from writing short stories. I’m starting see this novel as a set of linked short stories. I have three sets of characters that I’m following. Each one of them is a short story in their own right. I also want each Chapter to have a beginning, middle and an end. It’s kind of like I get to write a short story everyday but set in the same milieu

Writing out of sequence

I had intended to start this novel on a chapter I haven’t written yet. It will probably turn out to be Chapter 6. I’m enjoying this. It gives me that – so that’s how this scene that popped into my head two years ago came about. Who knew? I think that’s great fun.

Yesterday, I should have written Chapter 3. Except the character introduced in Chapter 3 wouldn’t talk to me. Not a word. Complete sulk. So I wrote Chapter 4.

I was amazed at how liberating that was.  I allowed myself to write the chapter my imagination was ready for. And of course, as soon as I finished that, the character in Chapter 3 woke up and demanded that I write her chapter right now. This is a fun way to work

An obsessive desire for backstory

So I’m doing my best to hit the word target each day (as well as get my work done and have a life) so you’d think that I’d focus on the text and get on with it. It turns out that I need more and more details on the backstory. I need a calendar for the years between now and 2066 when the story is set. I need a time line for key historical events. I need a back story for every character. Yet, instead of feeling like a burden, it feels like I’ve reached the next level in a video game.

The addictive effect of hitting the target

Each day I wake up and think about how I hit the number today. It may not be the first thing that I do something about but it will be in my day. It is time I’m gifting to myself. Every night I sleep knowing that I looked after myself by giving time to write. AND the word total keeps getting higher; you can’t stop when that’s happening – right?

I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks’ time


So what am I writing? A SciFi novel set in Switzerland in 2066 where not everything that looks human is and not everything that isn’t human lacks humanity. If you like that kind of thing and you’d like to follow along and or comment as the novel gets written, please click on the graphic below.

If you’d like to follow and or comment on the novel as I write it, click on the graphic below.


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