Reflections on writing a novel in 27 days – Part 1

In November 2003 I embarked on a new adventure: writing a novel. I took part in Nanowrimo, an annual novel-writing challenge that takes place every November. Nanowrimo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’ and the task is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I first discovered Nanowrimo just 3 days before the 2003 edition started, while browsing Erik Benson’s website. Erik had posted an entry describing his preparations for Nanowrimo and I was immediately intrigued. I clicked through to the Nanowrimo website and read all the details. Hmm yes, I thought, this is what I have been looking for!

You see, like many people, it’s always been an ambition of mine to write a novel. I’d tried a couple of times before, but I couldn’t seem to get off the ground. Nanowrimo sounded like it could provide the structure and motivation I needed. I was impressed by the Nanowrimo approach:

“Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

That made me realise – the thing that had held me back the previous times I’d attempted to write fiction was an obsessive need to write Quality (with a capital ‘Q’). I wanted to be Hemingway or Joyce. But here was Nanowrimo encouraging the exact opposite. In Nanowrimo, the measure of your progress would be ‘words per day’. 1,700 words per day to be exact. This seemed like a liberating notion to me.

It was the evening of 28 October 2003 and I nervously tapped my pen at the keyboard. I wondered if I should enter. Before I could rationally weigh up the pros and cons, I made a rash decision. I went back to Erik’s website and entered a comment. Mine was the first comment and it read:

I think I’m in
I just discovered NaNoWriMo tonight, but I’m twisting my own arm to do this. I hope I don’t chicken out.”

As I clicked the “Save” button to publish my comment on Erik’s well-read website, I knew I’d committed myself to Nanowrimo. I couldn’t back out now, I had done the weblog equivalent of spitting in my hand and shaking on it (with Erik’s weblog). I think it was then that I realised that I only had 3 days to prepare and come up with a plot and characters!!

There was another reason why I decided to write a novel. In the week leading up to this, I’d been stirring the pot in the blogosphere. I’d picked a fight with Clay Shirky on the Many-to-Many website about “broadcasting vs conversational” modes of blogging. My postings got some attention, although Clay decided not to get in the ring with me. Probably because I am a flyweight and, as the reigning heavyweight champion of the world in social software, he would’ve knocked me senseless. As I say, I was just picking a fight in the blogging sense. And you know what – it left me cold. I didn’t feel satisfied because a) I hadn’t gotten my point across to some of the Many-to-Many crowd, b) I wondered – was I just writing for the attention? and c) I didn’t feel I’d adequately covered the topics that were knocking around in my head. So I thought maybe writing a novel will help.

To be continued…

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