My birthday’s in June, but sometimes I wonder if the month I like most on my calendar is actually November. For those who have never heard of it, National Novel Writing Month is a worldwide event where the name of the game is to get 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s it.

Some authors love it, some hate it. Myself, well, I admit it was a little bit of both this year.

See those books in my sidebar? Fighter’s Mark started as my 2014 NaNo project. Deception Crossing was my 2015…and I’m still working on it. Right now, the 2nd draft is being edited, re-worked and partially re-drafted into a final version to go to beta readers in January. I finished draft two with three days to spare before NaNo. I was knackered. Yet I felt like a lead guitarist after a world tour: sick of the music, sick of the life, needing a lie-in, wondering how much more of this I can do before I get carpal tunnel syndrome, but goddamn I’ve never been playin’ this good!

I really didn’t want to try 50k in one month, even though I knew I could do it already, but I had a story I’d been desperate to get on the page for six months already. If I made myself do it, it could just be a roller coaster ride. I might even fall back in love with writing and clear my head of Deception Crossing completely, which let’s face it is exactly what I needed before going back for soul-wrenching one visit complete with Imposter Syndrome and too much whisky.

I’m a great big advertising hater. Seriously, don’t get me started on Christmas unless you want a rant crossed with the effects of a Pan-Galactic Gargle-blaster. (Hat tip to Doug Adams, I like to think my drinking head is actually good enough for one.) Yet I really like the advertising slogan NaNoWriMo came up with this year: ‘Your novel is calling. Will you answer?’

I answered. I’m very glad that I did.

Here’s a post about why. Part I is the process. Part II, for those curious, will be about the book I’ve ended up with. The idea has legs. In fact, I think it’s a bit of a spider. It will be up there next to the others by the end of 2018, schedule and funds permitting. For now though, here’s a post for those of you who are thinking of trying this next year, or for those who already do and want something they might relate to.

 

Write-ins are a good place to go

 

I don’t belong to a writing group. I’m not sure it would work for me as a regular thing. But for one month, I got to go to a library that was open out of hours just for writers, and never knew who was going to walk through the door. My local group were good humoured and welcomed anyone. I showed up early, and ended up showing this blog and my books to the librarian, who told me they were really professionally produced. Words of encouragement do go a long way. There’s no substitute for someone else appreciating what your doing. (Thanks Lee, if you end up reading this, and hope your Gulliver’s Travels spin-off worked out well.)

There’s an etiquette to writing groups: don’t talk too much about your own work, or yourself. Someone showed an interest in me and mine, and I like to think I passed it along when other people were talking. A social gathering of writers? It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, but believe me, it aint. Writing can actually be a social thing. NaNo does bring it out in those of us who do it.

 

If someone suggests an exercise, try it

 

The same group were doing a 20 minutes writing, 10 minutes break routine. Initially I wasn’t sold. Then I tried it.

I admit, I haven’t adopted it at home, because during the breaks I’d have nobody to talk to, and I think that’s why it worked – when everyone’s buzzing from a 20 minute keyboard-hammer, they’re in the mood to talk about writing. And eat copious amounts of snowballs and crisps.

Apparently during one of those sessions I actually said ‘Yes! Why not?’ when I had a breakthrough idea. I honestly don’t remember saying it. Maybe I just didn’t hear because I always write with headphones on. It amused the group. It’s just like someone once told me at my day job: I have a concentration face, and a zone so deep a fire alarm probably couldn’t penetrate it. The things you learn when other people are actually there to observe you doing something that’s usually done behind a locked door.

 

I wanted to write a different book, so I took on a different routine as well

I recently said in an interview how much I hate regimental writing routines. It’s true, I do. Except for when I feel like changing my whole approach, and am willing to embrace opposites.

I wanted a book that was nothing like the Talent Show series, if only because that one’s been quite hard to find readers for, and this time I was aiming for something fast paced, less reflective, and made more use of an action based narrative. Also, I fancied trying cyberpunk and military crossed with each other. So, would working faster than usual result in something different?

I realised about half way through that it wasn’t the speed that mattered. When I NaNo’d what became Fighter’s Mark, I was happy to flood the page with padding, sketches and scenes I knew probably wouldn’t make the final cut. What I realised I’d been trying this time was to actually get a decent draft on my first go, in the kind of style I hadn’t written in for years. And it was working!

I once heard a workshopper say ‘If you think your first draft is good that’s just your ego fucking with you.’ Yeah well, sometimes workshoppers on the internet can fuck with you just as much. I honestly believe a fair amount of this writing was good. Not ready for self-publishing good, but I know that feeling that I’m on to something well enough. My different approach paid off.

At heart I’m still a panster but this time on NaNo I gave myself the ‘plantser’ badge. I’d been thinking about this book for a while, after all. I’d even made some worldbuilding notes while sitting in a cafe two days before 1/11. And I’d even technically done some writing for it once before as a blog exercise, but none of that got included.

At the last minute, I went for a change of tactic with the story I’d planned for Arcadius Cantrell. I was already contemplating a switch where he became the sidekick character who was arguably more important than the main one, and then this article about how to cheat your way to likable characters clinched it for me: he’d actually be quite a good ‘friend who’s better/cooler/smarter than the narrator’ kind of character.

And that brings us to Part II….

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