Why the zero?

You may have noticed that the little blue square on the side of the page (the one under “Novel-writing madness”) says zero. And you may be wondering why. After all, for the past seven years, the number has risen steadily throughout November – and the final figure proudly displayed for a year.

Well, there’s a simple explanation: I didn’t do NaNoWriMo this year. I didn’t start and then give up; I just didn’t do it. I did write stuff, but there were just too many other things going on for me to focus on NaNoWriMo as I have in previous years. So even though I did do some work on a novel during November, I couldn’t honestly call it “doing NaNoWriMo”. Besides, it’s common practice in some professions to have a sabbatical once every seven years, so let’s think of 2016 as my NaNo sabbatical year.

To all my mates who did do NaNoWriMo: well done – especially if you did hit 50k. And to everyone who’s said to me this year, “I’m going to do that nano thing you’re always going on about”: they always said I’d be a bad influence…

(Only kidding. Seriously, I feel really chuffed to know that I’ve inspired someone to do something creative, so thank you)

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Did it again…

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

November 2014 has been and gone; another stress-filled November in which I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I won (again – yay me!), but I’d be the first to admit that this year it was a struggle. But I have learnt a few imortant lessons from the experience – the main one being that I am not a ‘pantser’.

If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of NaNoWriMo, you’ve probably looked at the last word in that previous paragraph and wondered if I’m on something. I’m not (although as a writer, I reserve the right to make words up when I feel like it). In NaNoWriMo-speak, there are two types of writers: Planners and Pantsers. Planners have a clearly thought-out idea, have sketched out a few characters, and have some idea of the plot of their story is going to go. They’re prepared, basically (the level of preparation may vary from one to the other).

Pantsers, on the other hand, don’t have time for all that. They rock up to this thing on Day 1 with nothing prepared in advance; they face the blank page/screen, and fly by the seat of their pants (hence the name).

After three years of going into NaNoWriMo with an idea kind of thought out in advance, I decided this year to see how the ‘blank canvas’ experience felt. Even the title of my novel alluded to this blankness (I named it The Person Who Did a Thing – backhanded tribute to my favourite Swedish authors, Jonas Jonasson and the late Stieg Larsson, whose book titles can all be reduced to that).

So far, so vague- I mean good. I started off well; I aimed to do two thousand words a day, and for the first week, I pretty much succeeded. But then I missed a couple of days and things started to unravel. Nothing much was happening with my characters, and it wasn’t until I decided to switch from telling the story in the third person and made it a first person narrative instead that words started to flow slightly more easily.

Again, the social/community side to NaNoWriMo helped me stay on track at the hardest times. I went to as many of the ‘write-ins’ as I could (usually in a Costa near Oxford Circus) and to the ‘Literary Lock-in’ – an all-nighter at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. That really helped. Writing from 7pm to 7am in a small bookshop with about 40 other people sounds daunting. But by the end of it, I’d done 6,000-plus words and was on track once again. I finally hit the 50K target on the very last day.

At the end of a gruelling NaNoWriMo, I now have two characters (plus half a dozen anciliary ones), tons of mostly self-reflective musings on anything and everythng, and a few ideas that could make a few decent short stories at the very least. So nothing’s been wasted.

What next? Well, after a short break, my plan is to pick up Refugees & Renegades (the novel I won NaNo with in 2011) and give it that long-overdue rewrite and edit. Of all the characters I’ve created so far, Braima, Ed and Alvaro y la Familia Montes are the ones I feel closest to (probably because of the amount of time I’ve spent with them). It’s time to finish their story and get it out. Once that’s done, it’ll be either Yebu and Yasminka (last year’s winning ladies) or the two Bens (from the year before). Either way, there’ll be at least one manuscript done by the time NaNoWriMo 2015 rolls round – and I’ll probably use that time to rewrite one of the other two.

NaNoWriMo: the Morning After

Thursday 1 December 2011, sometime before 6.00am…

It’s not November anymore. So why am I still getting out of bed at such an unearthly hour and firing up the laptop? I’ve already had a whole month of this…

Yep – I signed up once again for that exercise in complete madness that is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). The challenge, for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, is to write a novel in a month; 50,000 words or more in 30 days.

And boy, did I write. I wrote in my office (the one at home, that is!), in bed, in Starbucks, on the bus, on a plane, in a Latin music bar in Soho, a hotel in Istanbul, and reclined on a beanbag in a really nice café in Sultanhamet called the Palatium. I wrote on my new MacBook Pro and my old G4 iBook, as well as on my mobile phone (thank God for Evernote!) and even, on occasion, with good old pen and paper. 

This year’s NaNoWriMo felt a little different to previous ones where, for the most part, I’d come in to the exercise on Day 1 with a blank sheet and just winged it. I always believed that I would be more in control if I already had an idea and outline planned in advance, and so knew what I was supposed to be writing about when writing time came along. This time round, I did have an idea – and with a little help from the NaNoWriMo workbook Ready, Set, Novel! I had a handful of characters ready to work their magic. All the advance preparation helped me build up some great momentum in Week 1 – which helped, because things got a bit slack on the writing front in Week 2 (see previous blog post for some idea why; I had far too many late nights and other events in my diary that week). I struggled a bit in Week 3 but kept writing, and got back on track in the final week.

What would I say I learnt from this year’s NaNoWriMo experience?

Well, I’d learnt a long time ago that NaNoWriMo is a means to an end and not an end in itself. But that became more and more obvious to me as the month progressed. Basically what happened was that I developed an idea I thought was strong, but then struggled a bit with making it work (too few subplots to keep you going from one end of the story arc to another). I kept on writing nonetheless, but a lot of the time, it felt like treading water; just writing to keep the word count up, rather than to advance the plot.

Just write. It seems like daft advice, but none of that work is wasted. If nothing else, it is good practice – and it really does help sharpen your writing skills!

Well, November is over and I have a little under 51,000 words about an unconventional family I’ve quite grown to like. It would be nice to work on them a bit more and get them to the point where I’d be happy to introduce them to the rest of the world. That phase, I’ve decided, will start after Christmas.

Watch this space…

During November, I went on a Quiet Day at work, at which I was given this notebook. One or two of my novel ideas ended up in here...

My “NaNoWriMovember”

November was an interesting month, to say the least. It did seem to fly by very quickly; I’m not sure how much of that was down to what I spent the month doing. And what was that, I hear you ask? Well, I mostly spent it writing a novel and growing a moustache. Let me explain…

Back in April, I’d spent the month doing the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. That time, I only managed just over 29, 000 words (to be honest, I only really got going on day 23). Still, I learnt a fair bit from the experience – both about the novel-writing process and about myself.

I was in two minds about doing Nanowrimo after that; squeezing out two novels in a year seemed like a big stretch. But even though I had no pre-planned story idea and never really made the decision to do it until three days before kick-off, I jumped in on the first of the month and just wrote a load of stuff. There were a couple of days in that first week when I flagged a bit, but I basically just went with the “just write” advice and just wrote.

I started with a couple of characters just talking to each other – mostly over big dinners or very short chess games (very short because one of them was rubbish at chess and they’d both had a fair bit to drink). Various elements of people I’ve met began to click together to form new characters. After ‘freestyling’ for about a week and a half with three different sets of characters, their paths began to cross and a story began to develop – a story which became a bit more exciting (and totally daft) after I took a friend’s suggestion and wrote a certain reality TV character into the book! (Before I get sued, I should point out that the character in the book is only modelled on him. It’s not him!).

Anyway, to cut a long story short (and other cliches I’ve banned myself from using), I won NaNoWriMo. My word count clocked 51,725 on Day 30 – although according to NaNoWriMo’s word count verifier, it was only 50,056. Either way, that was enough to get me past the 50,000-word target.

Around the time I was twiddling my thumbs over whether or not to join in the exercise in total madness that is Nanowrimo, someone at work suggested that the men in the office join him in participating in ‘Movember’ – where men get sponsored to grow moustaches during the month of November, to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity.  Though not a big fan of either beards or moustaches, I thought I’d give it a go. After all, it’s a lot easier to do than writing a novel (if you think about it, it just involves NOT doing something – shaving – and so doesn’t really require much effort). And so I ended up with one seriously itchy caterpillar under my nose… and the campaign to kick cancer’s butt became £60 richer. Thanks to all of you who gave, and didn’t tell me I looked ridiculous.

There's one serious Mo', bro...

November was also special for reasons other than novel-writing and moustache-growing. Among the month’s other highlights, my dad turned 75 and we celebrated with an enormous meal in Rodzio Rico – a Brazilian restaurant in the O2. Two friends got married in a lovely wedding service in the City Temple. On a much sadder note, another friend died after a lengthy bout with cancer (the second friend of mine to die from that vile illness in as many years).

After all that, December’s looking rather unexciting. Still there’s Christmas to look forward to (do adults really look forward to Christmas?) and a few more mundane things to take care of – last year’s tax return being top of the list. Having not done any messing about with music in November, I plan to spend a bit more time working on stuff on the DJ front (expect a mixtape or two up on here before the end of the year).

And that was my “NaNoWriMovember”. It was fun, but I’m kind of glad it’s over.