Monday 28 January 2013

NaNoWriWee - Can Chris write a novella in 30 hours?

UPDATE - My entry won and was published by HarperCollins! Go to the link to the right to buy it for just 99p!

I spent the weekend taking part in the #NaNoWriWee challenge, which had been set by the Kernel Magazine, and supported by HarperCollins as part of their Authonomy/Friday Project brand.

NaNoWriWee is short for the National Novel Writing Weekend, and is somewhat in tribute to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), during which a ludicrous amount of people try to write a novel in a month. The target wordcount is 50,000, which translates to a fairly slim paperback novel.

The NaNoWriWee challenge was to write a substantial piece of fiction in 30 hours.  A novella, effectively, with a rough target of around 20,000 words.

I tried in 2006, and failed hilariously. While the story I wrote ended up being over 90,000 words, it took me four years. My next attempt at a novel took me two years to write a first draft at 80,000 words. I am not a fast writer. There have been times when writing has been painful and slow and has felt like I’ve been gouging the words out of my skin with my nails.

Writing 20,000 words in a weekend? For anyone reading Magic Falls, my weekly serial, that’s roughly 30 entries worth in one go. For me, this was the writing equivalent of trying to climb a mountain.

As I live in London, I registered to take part in a shared writing space provided by The Kernel, along with 15 others, where they kept us well fed and supplied with caffeine. I chose to do this partially for the social aspect, but primarily because I didn’t trust myself to keep distractions down to a minimum. They had been expecting more people, but that's the nature of a lot of these things, especially when confirmation of places was fairly late. Many more people registered to start online and around 110 people have been reported as submitting finished pieces.

I found out about it on Wednesday, and had a very rough plot by Thursday. It involved a man being framed for murder and it involved the extra sci-fi aspect of a world where nanotechnology injected into eyeballs is an accepted and regularly used thing. I had no ending, and no character names, and I wasn’t sure about what would happen, but I did have a beginning, a middle and a climax. I just didn’t know what would happen at the climax.

I didn’t have much time for it, and this meant that throughout the weekend, I had no option but to go with first instincts. It is difficult to explain how frightening and exhilarating that is.

Halfway through the story, I revealed a major plot point. Almost exactly on 10,000 words.

This wasn’t just a plot point, incidentally. It was the entire thrust of the story.

And I was suddenly convinced that it was shit and didn’t work. The reader would obviously throw the novella aside at this point and declare me an idiot. And if they were reading it on an e-reader, they would blame me for it breaking when they threw it aside and would sue me. I lost confidence in it. Completely.

But I didn’t have anything else. Without this, I had no story. I had another 10,000 words to fill, and no idea what would go into them.

Normally, at this point, I would put it aside, and would think about it, and decide if I needed to replace it with something else, and what else the story could be. Or, even worse, I would just give up on it and move onto something else.

I didn’t have that option this time. Not least because I’d intentionally made clear on facebook and twitter that 
I was doing it. I’d told people that I was going to complete this, and I couldn’t give up on it without having to be public about that as well.

So I had to ignore my fears on it, and plough ahead with the story, trusting in my first instincts and trusting in my ability to make it work.

And I ended up being really quite happy with it. It was freeing, if anything. After all, I could always go back and add more in to build up this plot twist, so it would be surprising, but it wouldn’t completely come out of nowhere.

Have I ended up completely happy with the story?

No. I have at least one section that is info-dump central, although it does allow for other things to happen later, but it isn’t as smooth as I would have liked. I did edit it down a bit, but it wasn’t quite as organic as I’d have liked. On the plus side, I think it is at least interesting info-dump central, so that’s not quite as bad as it could have been either.

I wrote 13,000 words in day one, and on day two I added another 7,000 and then edited and tweaked it all a little. But I’ve ended up with 20,000 words that all hang together pretty well and tell a complete story from beginning to end.

Learning to ignore that little voice in your head that only allows you to commit words to the page when you have complete confidence in them is definitely worthwhile. Sure, you’ll write some things you’re not happy with, but you’ll write some things you end up liking as well.

From talking to other people, the main two pieces of advice that I would impart are:

1 – Don’t read back over what you've just written.

Really, don’t. Not yet. Keep going for a while first, and when you do read back, be aware that you’re going to hate it the first time. The first time you re-read it, you’re going to spot all the stuff that you did wrong, and you’re going to convince yourself that you shouldn't be allowed access to any writing materials. Including chalk and crayon – in case you accidentally scrawl a complete sentence that someone else reads.

The second time? You’re going to start seeing some of the stuff that you did well. It’s primarily that little voice again telling you to give up. Talking of which…

2 – You can do this.

Really. You actually can. Stop listening to that voice. Listen to the one that wants to tell the story. That’s the one that’s right.

The worst thing that happens? It isn’t good.

YOU ARE ON THE INTERNET. You can find terrible writing EVERYWHERE. You will find, within minutes of searching, something that is far, far worse than what you wrote. You are not a terrible writer, and even if you are, you won’t get any better by continually not writing.

So. In conclusion. NaNoWriWee 2013. I enjoyed it, I learned a lot, and as far as I was concerned, it was a success.

Will I do NaNoWriWee 2014? I don’t know. I may. But I’m certainly glad that I did this one.

If my story stands a chance of being published, it will be made public as part of the process. I’ll be linking to it from here.

If it doesn’t? Then I’m just going to post it on here for you to read.

Oh, and if you’re interested enough to read it in the meantime, send me your email address on twitter and I’ll send it to you.


  1. Actually, I reread a complete chapter before I continue writing. Then I reread the whole thing again once the novel is completed. It's a natural habit for me. I feel safer if I've gone through my content twice.

    I'm also pretty blind to my mistakes, so even if I go through it the first round, I won't be able to spot much error.

    Hmm.. I guess its different for different people.

  2. I participated in the NaNoWriWee competition as well. If it were an actual novel that I am writing, then heck yes I would be reading each chapter. Heck, I would be rereading each sentence, each word. In this case, I had from 2 am on Saturday until 6 pm on Sunday to write it.

    I started at 2 am on Saturday, raring to go. I knew the story. It was only a matter of putting it on paper. I went like a bat out of hell for four hours. Typed four thousand words. It was all making sense. Then, I got tired. It just wasn't making sense to me any more. I slept for a few hours, which was not really sleep. I was churning the story over and over in some kind of lucid dream state. I thought I would get up ready to go. Hmm... It didn't quite happen that way. I had written four thousand words in the first four hours, now I was stuck-as-Chuck. It was almost nine at night and I had only written about a thousand more words when it seemed to click back. I hand wrote an outline. Among the many things I learned in the NaNoWriWee endeavor, it was the importance of an outline.It helped a lot when I wrote down bullet points; where the story started, why, where it was going, why, and how it ended up like I knew I wanted it to. I finished the darned thing. Where it will go, only time will tell. It will be a few days before my sleep patterns return to normal.

    Cheers to you, Chris. I will read your work. When it gets published, I will say that I knew you when.

    All The Best!