NaNoWriMo – Keep Calm And Carry On

It’s Day 5 of NaNoWriMo – writing 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel. I’ve signed up to the community, I’m motivated, I’m ahead of schedule in words, the plot is emerging slowly and yet I’m struggling on a number of fronts. I have five problems and just one strategy. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

1. The Concept of NaNoWriMo

As a photographer of many years, I would never set out to take 10 photographs, I’d aim to take as many photos as I need and show 10 great photographs to the outside world. Edit out the terrible, bad, average and the merely good. Just show the very best 10. That’s why I love flash fiction and short stories. Cutting everything back to serve the story. Every word crafted with care, nothing wasted.

The reason for taking part in NaNOWriMo is to learn to write longer pieces (and more me that means >2000 words) but the temptation to edit (cut) is huge. It’s like being an alcoholic in an off licence. My real fear (nightmare) is to have 50,000 words which are only fit to be edited down into a couple of short stories or pieces of flash. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

2. Research

Part of the joy of short stories and flash is the ability to avoid questions like ‘How do you power an iPod and a laptop in a camper van?’ If it’s possible, you just say it and let the reader do the work. It’s a short story – ‘get out of jail’ – no time for all that. In the longer form, these things matter. Not that you’re writing a set of instructions on how to do it but just covering it, making sure that it doesn’t affect some other part of the story elsewhere. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

3. Descriptions

Hmm, how much description to provide? Short stories and flash fiction haven’t been too much of a problem. What’s the absolute minimum required to keep the story moving?  How much does a novel need?   Does the fact that a cottage has a green door etc etc make a paragraph better or is it just fluff? Tell me it’s a cottage and I pick a cottage from memory – problem solved. Now I’ve got to think about it from a reader’s perspective. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

4. Dialogue

I like dialogue. I can picture it in my head. It’s the other stuff that I find difficult. The ‘he said’, ‘she said’ bit . Use an adverb here? Leave it out? And in long pieces of dialogue, they make a difference. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

5. Plot

I should have had more of a plan when I started. I’ve been a project manager, for God’s sake. But flash fiction – idea, write, edit – all in one session. Done and dusted. But you don’t knock off a novel in an evening over a glass of red wine with a CD on in the background. This isn’t an M&S microwave meal, this is Masterchef. I’ve got a beginning, middle and end, a bit of peril and a few key scenes, hardly Michelin standard. I’ve got Scrivener which helps otherwise I’d be dead by now but, as I start to develop chunks of words, I can see the flaws in the threads of plot in technicolour. Rewrite? Spend more time just thinking about the plot? No time. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

I love books and I love writing. Flash fiction, short stories. No problem. People may not like my stories but there was little trouble writing them. A novel? This is torture. So I’ve thought about it and here’s the truth. I’ve been reading books since I was four (thanks Mum) and I’m a fast reader so I’ve read thousands of books. But until now, I’d taken good writing for granted. Correct grammar, a decent plot, dialogue that flows naturally; just keep turning the page.  It’s only when there’s something obviously wrong that I’ve actually taken any notice of what’s going on. So suddenly I’m thinking about things that I’ve seen all my life, that were just ‘there’.

There’s a real temptation here to just stop. Go back to flash fiction or head down to the library and read every book on creative writing I can lay my hands on. That’s what I should do.

But the reality is that, for better for worse, I’ll never have a better chance to write a novel than now. So I’m going to keep typing in the hope that it’s not just me and most other writers went through this at some point or another, that I can sort out all the ‘stuff’ I took for granted in later months and that, as my Mum used to say, ‘it’ll all come out in the wash.’  Let’s hope so! KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON




About Peter Domican
Marketer and change professional. Writer and photographer.

5 Responses to NaNoWriMo – Keep Calm And Carry On

  1. joannacannon says:

    I did NaNo last year and I feel your pain, but just keep swimming! I’m definitely an edit-as-you-go writer and although my 50K didn’t give me much in the way of quality writing, it did give me nuggets of ideas and a framework on which I could hang some (hopefully!) better words.

    Plus it’s heaps of fun and I still wear my NaNo hoodie. Shameful.

  2. Claire King says:

    Yes, exactly, just keep on blurting out the words onto the page, and before you know it you’ll have a great swathe of raw material to start prettying up. Onwards!

  3. Martha says:

    Have a rummage on Marcus Speh’s site (Nothing to Flawnt) or Jon Pinnock’s (Jonathan Pinnock’s Write Stuff); great flash writers who have written books and at various points discussed the ‘series of flash’ styles of writing for longer pieces. Scenes. And all that.

    I’ve decided I hate NaNoWriMo. Of course, I’m going to carry on. Probably next year, too. But it’s still very horrid. I am tortured by flash fleas — I’ve never had so many flash ideas in my life, all useless for the book and too fast moving to catch and keep ‘for later’.

    Red wine is a good idea. I’ve already started calling it NaDrinkWineMo. You and I should start that up as an idea, eh? Oh, we already have?

    Keep writing. You’ll do good.

    • Marcus Speh says:

      hey, thanks martha for the mention. i just leafed through old posts of mine that i wrote during nanowrimo 2009 when i learnt to hate and love the process…i remember what you describe, the sudden onslaught of imagination hard pressed into the pages of one novel. and you know what, why dont you begin a different novel every day? nobody can stop you! my posts, btw, are here—and i regularly published excerpts on flawnt’s blog then, which was also fun. a few of them were later published as flash fiction.

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