I’m two thirds of the way into NaNoWriMo, the international program where you sign up to write 50,000 words of your novel. First time, and it’s intense. I’m sitting at 34,159 words, to be precise. Eleven days left to write 15,841 words. The numbers are very important, both the one going up and the one going down.
I like writing this way – I like knowing that I only have a month to write it and I like fully immersing myself in it. I’ve written two other books this way, in a couple of months. I’d rather do a little bit of thinking and planning, and then dive in, without going back to think things through. There’s no editing, no rewriting, no going back – just typing the next word, and the next sentence and the next paragraph.
What I don’t like is the uncertainty. It’s like living in a fog for a month, not being able to see clearly, not knowing where you’re going. One of my favourite writing quotes is from E. L. Doctorow:
‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
There are times when I type my password into my laptop and open up my file and think, I have no idea what to write next. So I sit for a minute, and try to find one sliver of the next part of the story. I try to find one fragment of a conversation or a feeling from my protagonist. It’s the first 400 or 500 words every day that are the hardest, until I get into the flow.
If you write 1,667 words a day, seven days a week during November, you will reach your target of 50,000 words at the end of the month. I started off with that target, but when I realised I could reach it, and would then stop, I decided to increase it to 1800. So now I’m about a day or two ahead of where I need to be, and that is a very reassuring feeling.
This week, I’ve sat in my favourite local cafe every day, ordered a chai latte from the lovely baristas and told myself I can’t leave until I write the 1800 words. And I also reminded myself of the editing job with the looming deadline waiting on my desktop at home. I have surprised myself that I can write 1800 words in an hour – I thought I was capable of about 600 words per half hour.
I’ve joined a NaNo Facebook group with writers Allison Tait and Allison Rushby. There’s almost a hundred of us, and it’s so interesting to see how everyone writes. There are excellent links, stimulating conversations and lots of encouragement. It is so incredibly motivating to know that there are others out there, writing when they don’t feel like it, fitting writing in around work and family, getting up early to write, staying up late to finish. And we’re all cheering each other on.
And now I’m starting to feel on solid ground, I know all the plotlines are starting to merge – although some of them are still pretty loose! I know I’m working up to the climax of the novel, I know the pace is going to pick up and I know I have only eleven more days of living in this writerly haze with dimming headlights.
I’ve discovered that I am a don’t-break-the-chain sort of person. In other words, I have written at least 1,667 words every day and I am terrified that if I miss a day, I will find it too hard to pick up again. Others in the group have written 3,000 words on one day, then 400 words the next, skipped two days, and then written 2,000. I need the non-negotiable type of habit to keep writing.
And the writing is full of holes, and I know I’ve named the same character two different names and not a lot happened in the second third of the book and I haven’t described the setting very well and my characters seem to be talking more than doing and there are inconsistencies everywhere you look. But I know that I can fix some of those things up in the next few drafts. Once you have 50,000 words, you can edit 50,000 words and make it better. But if you don’t have those words, you can’t edit a blank page.
So for the next eleven days, I’ll be inching my way one word at a time, headlights on, closer to the finish line of 50,000 words.