Today we welcome Sophie Claire to the blog to talk about her experience with November writing challenge NaNaWriMo, where participants attempt to write a novel in a month.
Sophie writes emotional stories set in England and in sunny Provence, where she spent her summers as a child. She has a French mother and a Scottish father, but was born in Africa and grew up in Manchester, England where she still lives with her husband and two sons.
Previously, she worked in Marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’ and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.
You can find out more at www.sophieclaire.co.uk, on Twitter @sclairewriter and on Facebook @sophieclairewriter
Over to Sophie...
This time last year I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. Why?
Well, for most of October I had been wrestling with the opening of a new novel, but I was frustrated at my lack of progress. I figured if I could complete the NaNo challenge and write 50,000 words in a month, I’d be well on the way to completing a first draft. However, I’d tried NaNoWriMo before with no success, and I’m a slow writer, so I was more than a little apprehensive.
Throughout the month I kept a diary of my progress. Here’s a quick peep to show you how I got on:
I’m writing 2000 words per day (weekdays only – weekends are too busy with family life) and the first few days go according to plan, but my worry is can I sustain this pace for a whole month? I have a plot outline and three or four characters, but the rest is hazy, as it always is when starting a first draft. However, the doubts which were slowing my progress before I started NaNoWriMo (Does this story have legs? Is it going to work?) are laid to one side as I focus purely on output. NaNoWriMo is unashamedly about quantity, not quality.
NaNoWriMo is making me more disciplined about my writing, and I realise that in recent months I had let my standards slip. I would start writing, then check emails. Write a bit more, check Twitter, then Facebook, then do a little internet research – and before I knew it I’d lost hours. Now, however, I don’t allow myself to do anything else until my 2000 words are written. Surprisingly, this can take as little as two and a half hours. I resolve to keep up the strict discipline once NaNoWriMo is over. Then I wonder, is it easier to stay disciplined when you know it’s only for a month? And perhaps there’s comfort too in knowing that thousands of other writers (including friends) across the world are working hard too?
I’m prioritising my writing over other activities, and I hadn’t anticipated how satisfying this would feel. I’m totally focused on my novel, and when I’m writing I lose track of time. I’m really enjoying being immersed in my fictional world. It feels as if a love affair has been rekindled.
Also, if NaNoWriMo is anything like new year’s resolutions, then I’d expect the halfway point to be the time when a lot of people give up. I’m still going, however, and proud to have made it this far.
I unexpectedly hit a wall and for several days in a row writing is like pulling teeth. I manage to keep up with the word count, but it takes twice as long, and I’m worried: is this the point where my plot will run out of steam? I’ve written thousands of words but are they all rubbish? I tell myself it doesn’t matter; if it fails, I’ve only lost a month’s work. Head down, I persevere.
Then I turn a page and it all begins to flow again. There’s no time to analyse what caused the blip. I keep forging ahead, relieved and thankful that the momentum is back.
I’m suddenly reminded that I haven’t done any Christmas shopping and have no prospect of doing any until NaNoWriMo is over so I make the spontaneous decision that, having dedicated November to my novel, December will be a time of catching up with family life and non-urgent jobs, like research and proofreading a friend’s novel. This motivates me to work even harder at NaNoWriMo and I up my word count from 2000 words per day to 2500.
I’ve reached 44,000 words and a writer friend emails to say ‘Make sure you get the ending down’. She’s right. 50k words will be an achievement but it’s not a complete novel, so now my focus shifts from meeting daily word counts to racing through the final plot points before I run out of time. The characters are finally coming alive now, and new scenes and twists are coming to me while I’m doing other things like shopping; fortunately I carry a notebook with me everywhere and frantically scribble notes so as not to forget these unexpected ideas. I love this stage: the book is becoming a living breathing story in my head, and I can’t wait to get to my computer each morning.
I hit 50,000 words on day 29 – a day early – but the ending isn’t complete so I carry on writing. On day 30 I cross the finishing line with 52,000 words under my belt. It’s rough, it’s going to need a couple more drafts at least, but I have the beginnings of a book. The first draft is always the hardest part of the writing process for me and that’s done, so now I can look forward to reshaping and editing it in the new year. The sense of achievement is huge! My goal was to kick-start a slow-moving project and, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’ve certainly achieved that.
Thank you for that insight into your NaNo month Sophie. It's fascinating to see how the writing process changes with a new structure or incentive.