NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Impossible Dream?

Given the recent terror threats in Brussels, and the ridiculous amount I’ve had on at work, I could perhaps be forgiven for falling behind with my NaNo novel. Nonetheless it’s frustrating to be four days away from the end of the challenge feeling uncertain as to whether I will manage to complete it. I’ve had a good bash at translating my idea into a story, but along the way, as so often happens when you lack a solid plan, I’ve wandered off, allowing my characters to do exactly as they please, often with most unpleasing results. Still, in its current form my ‘novel’ (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) stands at a not unimpressive 37,397 words – which is precisely 37,397 words more than I would have written had I note decided to partake in the challenge again. So I suppose whatever happens from here on in I should at least be proud of that. But now I’m so tantalisingly close to crossing the virtual finish line I’m not sure I can let it drop. Maybe four days is enough to cram in almost 13,000 words. Maybe this dream is not impossible. Maybe…Just maybe…

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NaNoWriMo Day 19: Hope Restored

It’s 9.27pm. I have been to the gym (20 minutes, but still), cooked dinner (nuggets-and what?), written 1,800 words (GO ME) of my NaNo novel (arguably the best 1,800 words I have so far written, in fact) and am sitting on the sofa with a glass of red wine and some tiramisu watching Made in Chelsea. This situation is nothing short of brilliant, especially when you consider how today started, with a blog post so miserable I couldn’t bring myself to post it, and feeling so tired I was on the verge of tears on my way into work. It really is amazing the difference a day makes. Or rather, the difference a productive evening makes.

Doing NaNoWriMo really focuses the mind and makes you realise that it IS possible to find more time in your day, no matter what excuses your jaded mind will try to throw into your way to veer you off course. Despite my tiredness I’m also remembering how much I love the escapism writing offers, the way you can dive straight into a world of your own making and get lost in the antics of your characters (mine, by the way, were involved in a terrifying assault situation tonight, which was tremendous fun to write. For once my daily word count flew past). So yes, once again I find myself thinking that it might be rather a good plan to extend this daily writing beyond November, and to make it something of a habit. Here’s hoping this time it lasts…

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NaNoWriMo Day 18: Blind Panic

The image below perfectly sums up my current attitude towards my NaNo novel. It is day 18, and for reasons I won’t bore you with, I didn’t manage to write a single word last night to shore up the rapidly breaking dam between achievement and failure in this challenge. I went to bed with a heavy heart, knowing I was 6,000 words behind target. Tonight I didn’t manage to leave the office until 7pm, and when I got home was so disgusted by my lack of physical activity this week I forced myself to go to the gym for a twenty minute run. And you know what? It was the run that turned it all around. I came back with fresh zest and zeal, refusing to be beaten, and I sat and noveled furiously for an hour and twenty minutes and managed to write 1,700 words. Granted, that means I am still 6,000 words behind, which doesn’t exactly sound like an achievement. But the point is I’m no further behind than I was yesterday. I have shored up the dam just enough to keep happy waters of achievement in their rightful place. I don’t know what tomorrow holds – if it’s anything like the rest of this week has been I’m dreading it already – but I’m not giving up yet. There are still ten days to go and that means there is still HOPE, the NaNo novelist’s best friend and salvation. All is not lost. Let the rollercoaster resume…

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NaNoWriMo Day 16: The Wounded Dog

It is the start of week three, and after a boozy weekend for the other half’s birthday I’m disappointingly, and unsurprisingly, limping along like a wounded dog where my word count is concerned. That said, I put in a concerted effort tonight to try and redress the balance a little, and am now just under 4,000 words behind target. Which my trusty NaNo stat counter tells me means I will finish six days too late. So, not great. But not so far behind I have no hope of catching up. If I can chip away at it over the course of this week and put a good session in over the weekend all may not be lost. That’s if I can actually work out how the plot should develop from this point onwards….

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NaNoWriMo Day One

I’m pretty sure this is sixth time I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo. I know that because I wrote down the names of all the previous ‘novels’ I’ve written this afternoon – when I was meant to be getting my first day’s word count down.

And so it begins. A month of furious head-down-pedal-to-the-metal determination to succeed in the face of extreme adversity and near-total lack of self-belief. Fuelled by coffee and cake, we NaNo veterans hurl ourselves once more unto the breach, the sails of our stories flapping precariously in the force of our wayward imaginations.

Today I did at least manage to hit the daily word count. This bodes well, or at least would bode well were it not for the fact my first 1,500 words have already exposed a major plot flaw that I’m struggling to find a solution to before tomorrow’s session. But hey, this kind of thing is common in NaNo Land. We set sail in one direction only to find over the course of thirty days we have gone quite off course and are now heading in another altogether. Such is the life of the speedy novelist (and poor sailor). Worse things, after all, have happened at sea….

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Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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On Writing Autobiographically

During last night’s crime writing class at the City Lit we discussed characterisation. I told the group I was intent on making the protagonist of my latest story as unlike me as possible. Why? Because I’ve realised that, all too often, I write characters as if they were, in fact, me, and whilst Polly Courtney said at last week’s Writers’ & Artists’ conference that most people write their first novel autobiographically (“because they have something to get off their chest”), in my case I fear it might be more to do with laziness than self-expression. I worry that in writing characters who are based, no matter how loosely, on me, I’m closing myself off to a host of far more interesting and complex characters. Not only that, I’m failing to examine their personalities thoroughly enough to be able to fully inhabit them, as I’m assuming they would have the same thoughts and feelings as I would, when this isn’t necessarily (and indeed shouldn’t) be the case.

After a written exercise, wherein we were encouraged to introduce our characters by name (“My name is X…”) and elaborate on how they felt about that name, whether it had any connotations/associations etc., we had a group discussion. One of my fellow students said she didn’t like the character she had written about in the exercise – in fact, more than that, she actively disliked her. The teacher was concerned about this, and said that if a writer is unable to empathise with their protagonist they must at least be able to foster a sense of curiosity about them. For example, what experiences have shaped them into the person they are today (or at the time your novel is set)? Why do they hold certain viewpoints and like or dislike certain things?  

A useful exercise in characterisation, we learned, is to take your main character and write about them both ‘from the inside out’ and ‘from the outside in.’ In other words, write one paragraph ‘as’ them (a letter to a loved one, for example) and then answer a series of questions ‘about’ them (e.g. what is their favourite colour/food, what do they like/dislike etc.). One particularly pertinent and often revealing question is ‘What does he/she dislike most about him/herself,’ as it often gives rise to useful insights into their inner psyche.

The lesson, I suppose, is that if you don’t completely identify with your main character that’s fine, so long as you like them sufficiently to be curious about who they are and what makes them tick. What is certain is that during the creative process you’ll be spending a huge amount of time with this person, so it has to be someone you’re happy to hang out with – or you’ll likely have a pretty miserable time writing it!

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