#NaNoWriMo with repeated lines of writing
Father Forgive Me, For I Have Failed NaNoWriMo

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Writing had never felt so rewarding and every time I had to leave my desk to work or do a chore, I was itching to get back to the ideas I left on the page. It was nice to be lost in fiction rather than academic footnotes for a change.

To those that are unfamiliar with the concept, National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 and every November 1st since, thousands of writers have sat down to commit themselves to writing 50,000 words worth of a novel by the end of the month.

The month is organised by NaNoWriMo – an organisation of the same, albeit shorter, name. Although famous for the challenge, the organisation is committed to several literacy and education programs, encouraging and enabling writers of all ages and abilities to express the novel in them.

Writing doesn’t occur in a single month and their efforts reflect that. However, almost 370,000 novels owe their existence to a long November somewhere along the way and with nearly 800,000 novelists striving for that end goal – who was I not to give the challenge a go?

I have been working part-time on a writing project since July 2020 but my second year at university pushed it to the wayside. Going into my third year, I planned to give it some more attention and this was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself and finally put some progress behind it.

As it transpires, writing consistently and often is quite the challenge. Balancing university work with maintaining a social life was already quite the ask; add a marathon level project into the mix and it’s bound to be chaotic.

Starting the month, I was well above the daily target and, quite frankly, enjoying the change of pace. Going from sporadic bursts to consistent work kept me in the same tramlines and allowed me to develop characters and plot fluidly, rather than bolting together parts that were written weeks apart.

Writing had never felt so rewarding and every time I had to leave my desk to work or do a chore, I was itching to get back to the ideas I left on the page. It was nice to be lost in fiction rather than academic footnotes for a change.

That’s when reality crept back into the equation: upcoming deadlines, societies, and events brought me crawling down to writing as much as I could on bus journeys – a few hundred a day at most. Try as I might to prop up my tally at the end of the month with frantic but exciting bursts of writing, I fell flat on the stroke of midnight December 1st with just over 40,000 words.

What went wrong?

I knew burnout was possible, I knew a schedule wouldn’t survive contact with the real world, and I knew my own lack of multitasking skills. Perhaps it was doomed from the start.  To be honest, I could apply the same reasoning to my attempts at Couch to 5k, Stoptober, or giving up Red Bull for lent – I’m simply not an animal of preparation or commitment.

Regardless, 40,000 words isn’t something to turn your nose up at. Even 80% of the way is significantly more writing than I would have done over the same period, plus I have gained valuable knowledge of both my project and my approach to it.

NaNoWriMo has given me a chance to resurrect an old hobby and put the passion back into writing and for that reason alone I would highly recommend participating.

For those of you that plan to participate next year, I have a few nuggets of wisdom to pass on:

  1. To complete the challenge, you’ll need to average 1667 words a day – give or take. That’s not to say you must write every day; some days you can finish several days worth between two mugs of tea. For others, the world will conspire to keep pen from paper. Best not to fall too far behind – trust me.
  2. Don’t delete anything! Even bad progress, if such a thing exists, is progress and you can always revisit it later. If you can resist the temptation to simply can the whole thing then you’re on the right track.
  3. Explore how you write beforehand. Having the tools is one thing, knowing how you like to use them is another; 50,000 words works very different depending on how you approach it. If you are particularly modular, its best to work scene by scene and figure out how they piece together later. Should you be more linearly inclined, let your story flow until its finished or until the month ends.
  4. The quality of your prose is a matter for December. November is about quantity first and foremost; get as much down as you can; refining can always be done later.
  5. Most importantly, enjoy the process!

Setting aside a whole month for a dedicated goal of writing is a novel idea. November or not, it is an exercise in stretching our ability to write in bulk and take our ideas and skills through the paces.

Investing that time into our work gives us the space to develop our craft, focus in on what we enjoy, and weed out the issues we have with our process.

Every November is a new opportunity. Despite my failure, I am more determined than ever to give next year my all and I hope to see some of you there with me.

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