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NaNo or NoNo?

December 14th, 2012

I have just emerged from that month of literary lunacy called National Novel Writing Month.

This challenge requires you to write a novel (it doesn’t have to be finished) in at least 50,000 words during November. So you have to produce an average of 1,667 words per day. If you manage it you become a “winner”.

This was my first time and I was determined to take part this year. A lot of advice about tackling NaNo is around but you have to adapt it to suit you. So how did I get on?

Vanessa CouchmanBeat-the-clock strategies

Planning in advance makes good sense. But I found my idea only during our holiday at the end of September, so it didn’t leave a lot of time for plotting, characterisation and research. As a result, my plot has more holes than a Gruyère cheese and some sections are sketchy. But if I hadn’t had a deadline, I would have fretted over those parts and might well have given up.

People advise you to clear the decks beforehand and schedule a regular writing slot every day. If you work and have other commitments, this is almost impossible. However, I forced myself to write whenever I had an hour or so free. And it worked. The quality of the writing leaves something to be desired but that’s for later drafts. You’d be surprised how well you can write under pressure.

I also told everyone that I was doing NaNo. This was not to impress them but to provide an incentive to finish. The shame of not doing so would have been intolerable.

Winner or also-ran?

What’s my novel about? Set in Corsica, it’s based on a true story about a young woman who falls in love with the local schoolmaster but has to marry someone else. There’s rather more to it than that but if you have the basic storyline you are halfway there. The trick is not to be too rigid about the details. I constantly changed aspects of the plot – but not the basic story – as I went along.

Result? I hit the 50,000 word barrier on 20th November. You can validate your novel’s word count on the official site from 25th November. I continued to write my novel up till 30th November and it’s still not finished. I have a great deal of research and editing to do before I can even contemplate showing it to anyone else. But the sense of achievement is wonderful.

So, if you decide to enter next year, good luck. Prepare well beforehand – better than I did – but above all, enjoy it. I must admit to having had a little tear in my eye when I said goodbye to my characters.

Did I type “The End”? You bet I did, with a flourish.


Vanessa Couchman is a Writers Bureau tutor and freelance writer based in France. She provides corporate writing services to organisations worldwide. She also writes for magazines and websites about French life and the craft of writing. Her short stories have been shortlisted or placed in various competitions, including first prize in a Writing Magazine competition in 2011. http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com

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