It’s ironic that I want to write a piece on NaNoWriMo and am struggling to put the words down.
NaNoWriMo, for those of you who don’t know, is National Novel Writing Month, though in the years since it began writers from all over the world have taken part. The goal is straightforward: write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s 50,000 words in 30 days, or roughly 1,667 words a day. Suffice to say, this is easier said than done.
A couple of months ago, I began writing my first novel. I’d written plenty of screenplays, a few poems and a nice chunk of fiction, but this was my first proper attempt at a full novel. The book, titled “Derrin the Liar,” is a fantasy adventure tale and by November I’d written somewhere between 20 and 25,000 words. Not bad, I thought, but NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to focus on the book and really get a big chunk of it done.
It wasn’t easy. I have to note, actually getting the words written wasn’t so much the hard part as keeping my focus. I found that I couldn’t do anything while writing: no music in the background, no TV, not even chatting to Katie. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to switch off my internet and put on my noise reducing headphones. With the help of a wonderful piece of software called Write or Die, I pushed myself to write.
Every day I didn’t get to write, I felt bad. I got even less social than usual. I missed out on gatherings and events I really enjoyed so I could stay at home, sit on the couch and crank out my goal for the day. Even so, I was well behind where I wanted to be. By Day 29, I was sitting on 43,702 words. A good achievement for my first NaNoWrimo, but it wasn’t the target. I wasn’t going to be satisfied with almost succeeding, not after everything I’d done.
So on November 30th, I sat down once again and got to writing. It took most of the day, but by five o’clock or so that night, I did it. I ended up with a final count of 50,141 words written in 30 days. I even have a certificate to show for it:
But why the hell did I and the hundreds of thousands of other writers put ourselves through this? Well, I suppose there’s something rather masochistic about the act of writing. Very often you put down a tale that’s close to your heart, something you hope the rest of the world will love as much as you do, and there’s no guarantee that will happen. You force yourself through procrastination and self-doubt, striving to make a work that will stand the test of time and give you the recognition you crave. But that same recognition can make life hell, so you run away from it as often as you embrace it.
Writers are a big bag of contradictions, is what I’m saying. And unfortunately, we can’t help it. It gets in the blood and you’ve got to do it. You feel incomplete when you don’t. You get depressed and you might not be sure why, but the truth is staring you in the face. Regardless of your skill with words, you have stories that demand release and keeping them prisoner inside your head only hurts you.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I got a typewriter when I was young, then an electric version later on. I wrote a book on that typewriter, starring a cowardly prince and my stuffed toys as magically altered animal friends. It wasn’t great, but looking back on it, it wasn’t bad for an eleven-year-old. Then I gave it to a teacher at school and never saw it again. Oh well.
But I kept on writing. Essays were one of the few parts of secondary school I enjoyed and I wrote my first screenplay during those years. I’d just seen Reservoir Dogs, so naturally I wrote a rip-off. That wasn’t quite so good, but I knew if I could stay focused, I could write and it would get better.
“Derrin the Liar” is certainly much more ambitious than previous projects. I’ve developed a new setting and have seen characters develop far beyond the paltry few ideas I had for them. It’s been quite the experience and thanks to NaNoWriMo I’m further along than I would have been if left to my own devices. I’m always in a better mood when I’m putting words on paper (or on a screen.)
I’ve taken a couple of days off from writing, but it’s time to get back into it. A writer writes, after all.