Monday, 28 October 2013

Can You Write A Novel In 30 Days?

It's that time of year again. On November 1st thousands of people will embark on the seemingly impossible task of writing a novel in 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If you have never heard of this challenge I strongly advise checking out the website here.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /
The first time I took part back in 2009 I had never written anything longer than flash fiction. I had always wanted to write but at that time it was a dream I had kept hidden for years, jotting down flash fiction pieces every now and then but never really taking it seriously.

So what changed in 2009? I had my son. I wanted him to grow up to believe that he could do anything if he set his mind to it and put in the work and when I heard about the challenge I figured it was my job to lead by example. With only a week to go before the start of the challenge I played around with a few ideas and jotted down some notes but I basically started with very little idea what I was going to write. Even so, I did it. At the end of November I had a completed first draft of my first ever novel, I was over the moon and so proud of myself. I even admitted to those closest to me that I dreamed of being a writer.

Unfortunately, when I read back through what I had written, I hated it. There were some great elements in there but it was too meandering and there wasn't enough structure to it. At the time I didn't really know enough about the craft to even start fixing it, so I put it away in a draw with the promise I would get back to it one day.

Roll on November 2010 and while I had written a few more flash fiction pieces and worked a little on craft, I still hadn't really achieved very much. I decided to give NaNoWriMo a go again. This time I plotted out quite a bit of the novel before hand and once again I finished the month with a complete draft. Although much better than my first attempt at writing a novel, it still needed a whole lot of work and probably a complete re-write.

A little disheartened I decided I would concentrate on learning the craft before attempting another novel length piece. Unfortunately, reading about the craft seemed to take over and I spent less and less time actually writing. If anything, I think I read so much writing advice that when I was faced with the blank page I became paralysed, how could I ever live up to all that advice? Everything I wrote felt wrong.

This year I decided it was time to make a drastic change. I stopped keeping my dream a secret and told everyone. I started this blog to try and encourage other writer's to have more belief in themselves and their dreams as I was trying to do. I took several writing courses that actually involved me writing instead of just reading about the craft, and the feedback I received really boosted my confidence (one short story was compared to Stephen King!!!). I became a book reviewer (another long held dream), and with all of the craft knowledge I have gained over the past couple of years I could easily work out what worked or didn't and why. In fact, being a reviewer and picking these books apart to see how they tick has probably been the best training yet. I also discovered #ROW80, and the goal setting and support that comes with it has been immensely helpful.

Now, November is nearly upon us again. I have a fully formed story road map and I am better prepared than ever before. This time I am confident that I will come through the other end with a draft that I will actually be able to work on and polish into something great.

Although those earlier attempts were cringeworthy, they were a necessary part of the process. Writing them taught me so much and with every project I take on I get better and better. 2012 has been a great year for me professionally, but it was that first NaNoWriMo that kick-started it all. If you have never taken part before, I can highly recommend it.

How about you? Are you taking part this year? Have you taken part in the past? If so, what was your experience like? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.

If you want to connect with me on the NaNoWriMo forums my username is Polgara.


  1. My first year doing NaNo so wondering what on earth I have let myself in for!
    Suzanne @ Suzannes Tribe

    1. Don't worry Suzanne, we all feel like that. Trust me though, it will all be worth it. Best of luck with NaNo, let me know how you get on. x