I can’t quite believe it’s that time of year again, but here we are: in seven days it’ll be November, also known as, National Novel Writing Month, also known as, why do I do this to myself.
And not only that: this year will be 10 years since I did my first WriMo! (Though not my 10th WriMo – more on that later).
I thought to celebrate the occasion – T minus one week! – I could take a look back at my previous WriMos, and see what, if anything, I learned.
I heard of NaNoWriMo some time around 2005 but I was reluctant, for a long time, to dive in. I was doing my GCSEs, I had coursework, I had homework, I was just like, super busy. But then one day I looked forward and realised… I was basically always going to be super busy. So come November 2007 I decided I’d just go for it:
NaNoWriMo 2007: ‘Untitled Novel’ 50,090 words
This was the latest in a series of attempts at the same novel I’d been attempting since I was about fourteen, and not the most successful one. I’m honestly not sure what I did with all those words, since best as I recall it was just magical teenager shenanigans, pages and pages of them. I think the idea was there was going to be plot, but I never got to it.
I finished on November 29th and didn’t have the energy to do another day just for the bonus words.
What I learned: the basics of NaNoWriMo; that I could commit to writing more than a thousand words a day; and also that I really love hitting targets.
NaNoWriMo 2008: ‘Summer’ 65,420 words
Now we’re talking! I had an almost entirely new project – I wrote the beginning of Summer in July 2008 – I had an actual plot and I had a determination to outdo myself.
Although if I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember much about writing this one. I suppose it’s just that I’ve revisted and re-writen Summer aka The Summer Masque so many times in the intervening 9 years that my memories of writing this initial, raw draft have been overwritten. I must have had a good time, though – look at that wordcount!
What I learned: how to write an actual novel, with a plot; how to improvise; how to worldbuild
NaNoWriMo 2009: ‘Autumn’ 80,250 words
Woof. I went a little crazy in November 2009. It was my first year of university, I was running my own affairs, my coursework projects… weren’t that important because you know, first year, and for the first time I had a local group to attend. I remember a lot of long hours in cafes, a lot of new friends, a lot of chips, a lot of cake.
The finished project was a mess that I’m still struggling to make sense of, but this remains my favourite WriMo. It was a truly great month and I don’t regret a moment of it.
What I learned: how to write and write and write!
NaNoWriMo 2010: ‘Phases of Being’ 50,000 words
Second year of university is when I learned how to actually be a student. I was taking my studies very seriously, I had a lot of coursework and was a lot more driven.
In the interim I’d made another more succesful attempt to write the Big Novel and I figured for WriMo I’d pick up where I left off. I wrote a 50,000 block from the middle of it and as you can tell from that, um, wordcount, I wasn’t putting in more time or effort than was necessary!
What I learned: how to manage my time, how to juggle projects, how to find & know my limits
At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to be writing any more WriMos for the forseeable future. Juggling second year coursework with a novel had been hard enough. Come November 2011, I made what was definitely the responsible decision and bowed out till I was sure I had the time… which was…
NaNoWriMo 2014: ‘Autumn (Redux)’ 70,034 words
Looking back, this one was a bit of a cheat. I was essentially just re-writing, from the ground up, my 2009 effort. But I don’t regret it. I got some good material out of it and it was a massive mental health boost.
In November 2014 I’d been unemployed for two months and was really struggling with job hunting, with motivation, and with general self-worth. Having a structured project to work on and twice-weekly socials to go along to was exactly what I needed.
And fortunately, come the start of December I started a work experience placement – and by January I had a job. It worked out okay!
What I learned: to believe in myself again, how to re-write, to re-revist.
NaNoWriMo 2015: ‘Here we are again (A Working Title)’ 61, 453
Would you believe… essentially the same novel as my first WriMo. Only this time, not a cheat. In 2015 I was stuck in a mindless job and really needed to dive straight into something, so I decided to go again and give volume two of the Big Novel a shot.
It got off to a slow start but ultimately worked out pretty good. I re-read it a few months back and it works pretty well! I’m considering picking up where I left off next week…
What I learned: to take the plunge, to take my characters further
NaNoWriMo 2016: ‘After My Mother Disappeared’ 70,484 words
Right up till the end of October I was undecided about which project to dust off… but then I had a dream, and in my dream were the bones of a YA fantasy. So here it is: my one and only entirely fresh start WriMo.
It was tremendous fun. I had very little idea where I was going with it, but I kept writing and in the end it came together beautifully.
What I learned: to take risks, to really write by the seat of my pants
NaNoWriMo 2017: ?
As you can see from the above: I’ve done NaNoWriMo 7 times and I’ve yet to lose. I take commitments very seriously and I can write fast, when I want to.
That’s why each year is always a little nerve-wracking: at this point, I don’t know if I could stand losing! I’d rather not try at all, which probably isn’t healthy. The fact that I’m struggling to stay on top of a goal of 100 words a day at present isn’t helping!
But I did it last year when I was working full time and I can do it again. It’s just a matter of making a decision:
Option A: pick up where I left off with 2015. Very tempting as I almost did this last year!
Option B: keep on going with Annique, my current project. Practical and responsible but I’m starting to hate it already so, maybe not.
Option C: start something new. I’ve been using Inktober to toss around some ideas for a sci-fi story based on a couple of short stories I’ve written. There’s some bones there. It’d be a risky move, for sure.
Well: the good news is, I have a whole week to make my mind up!