National Novel Writing Month is over, and we can breathe a global sigh of relief.

Once again I didn’t win. Not in NaNo terms anyway. But I re-learned a few important lessons. I gained what I set out to gain. And I managed 40,000 words under testing circumstances.

The crimson leaves of NaNo season

I had a busy November. Some of it was unavoidable emergencies. Some was down to plain poor planning. 

A few months ago, my brother asked if he could come visit for a week. I looked at my calendar. November looked pretty free. He agreed and booked his flight. The day after, I remembered – November isn’t a month! November isn’t a regular schedule with weeks either free or booked up. November is that time when we hide away in pubs and cafes and abuse our keyboards for thirty days, frantically checking word counts and perspiring as we watch our graphs dip or climb along that tantalising Path to Success.

So I thought I had better get ahead. But on our first (and, it would turn out, only) write-in, a fellow Wrimo fell and slammed her head into the kerb. We spent the following week going in and out of hospitals, helping her through the aftermath of concussion and camping out in Accidents & Emergency.

November full moons seem the most magical

Meanwhile, other friends and family needed help. It seemed everything was falling apart at once. There was legal paperwork to get in order, video sessions with family in need, supporting people who have no one else. Then our shower started leaking into the kitchen below. It felt like all the planets were in retrograde at once.

My graph lagged and lagged. I rewrote some pre-written pages and caught up. My story was finally taking shape. Then, my party animal brother crash-landed into our lives and started serving quadruple-strength White Russians at 4pm. I was lost. Five days passed with only a few hundred words, wrangled at our dining table during hazy hangover afternoons.

By now, my graph was flatter than a pancake in Wyoming. Still, I found a way forward. My eyes firmly fixed on the Path to Success, I bashed out ten thousand words in three days. Things were looking up.

Trying to get organised (you should see my backstory spreadsheet!)

Then, the final five days of November, we had booked a trip to Paris. Again, I hadn’t planned this with the NaNoWriMo beast in mind. I packed my laptop, NaNo workbook, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird for extra inspiration. I would sit in cafes, I decided, and write two thousand words each morning, over pastries and cafés de crême. 

Ha-bloody-ha. I wrote a total of 150 words over those five days, updating my word count each day with a single sentence, just to keep my streak. But I decided pretty much instantly upon arriving in the City of Light that this was not going to work – the forty thousand words I had already accumulated would have to suffice. Because I was in Paris, and I intended to savour it.

Time to breathe, not write

Besides, I had already gained what I had hoped to gain from this year’s NaNo. I have reconnected with my writing. I’ve rediscovered the importance of writing daily, and the ease with which the story comes back to me each morning when I sit down to write, if I am already in the swing of things. The characters live in my head, and as long as I keep writing regularly, I’m feeding them oxygen. The longer I go without attending to them, the more they suffocate and wither. I will keep breathing life into them until I reach THE END.

I’ve also relearned the nature of a first draft. Everyone always says a first draft has to be bad. You have to let go of perfection. You mustn’t edit as you go. But—

—there’s more to it than that. There are things you can only fully grasp once you are knee-deep in long, rambling pages full of square brackets and things to fill in, once you are giving shape to a person you don’t yet know, once you’re writing pages and pages of dialogue in no particular voice or style, because you just need to get the story down, once and in chronological order, and only when that is done can you see the shape of your tale; only then will your characters start whispering to you in their own personal lilt; only then can you go back and stitch flesh onto the bones that is your first draft. 

I love what Anne Lamott says about writing being a process of elimination. You have to write a whole bunch of rambling nonsense in order to get to that one tidbit, that one piece of dialogue, that one paragraph that you like, that you will keep. The rest goes away with a simple tap of a Delete button. It’s that easy.

So that’s the lesson. Same as always. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again, because it’s the only answer: Just. Keep. Writing.

KW 🖤

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“It was time. I had to see who I could be outside those walls.”


THE COLOURS WE SEE is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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