I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo! Well…sort of…

NaNoWriMo badge

Not all of my blog followers are writers or bloggers themselves, so a brief explanation – NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. It happens every November. There is a website which offers support, encouragement, and verification of your word count. If you complete the 50,000 words, you are deemed a winner. The website is: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

The idea is that you tell your internal editor to take a hike, and you rattle your way through it, trying hard not to judge your writing, or to look backwards, just keep going forwards. Plenty of time for editing once November is finished.

Before I explain why I said I ‘sort of’ did it, let me answer a few of the other questions that you’re no doubt desperate to ask me…

Why did I do it?

I’ve done lots of different types of writing, but had never written a novel. Like most people, it was on my list of things I’d like to do, but it just felt like such an onerous thing to tackle. I work best to a deadline, so this seemed the ideal opportunity to have a go. There was a strict deadline, and it also brought out my competitive side because you have buddies on the NaNo website (a bit like facebook friends), and you can monitor how others are doing with their word counts along the way. I also wanted to see if I had it in me to write a large volume in a short space of time. Even if I ended up with a complete load of trash, I would only have invested a month in it. Nothing to lose by giving it a go right?

How did I do it?

I work full time, I have children, I have lots of other things going on in my life, how did I find the time to write the 1,500 – 2,000 words a day required? I just muscled my way in with my elbows and squeezed out bits of time where I could. Some days I woke up earlier and did some before work, some days I stayed awake later at night. When I was cooking, I would have the laptop open on the counter and keep tapping a few words out in between stirring things. And really, I didn’t burn THAT many dinners. Weekends I was able to grab a few extra hours. I can’t say it was easy, some days when I was feeling tired and uninspired, forcing those words out was really hard work, but marathons of any sort were never meant to be easy.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. I learnt a lot about myself as writer – I won’t go into all that now, but even if I never do any more with what I have written, it will have been worth it for what I learnt from the experience.

And finally, why DID I say that I ‘sort of’ did it?

Well, I cheated a little. Twice. On one occasion, I was really stuck for inspiration. I had something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, so I made my main character log into the internet, and read someone’s blog, and I then typed out this other thing I’ve been wanting to write, as if she was reading it on screen. I deserve a few points for inventiveness right? But it really was nothing to do with the story. On another occasion, again, when I was completely stuck, I had two of my characters sit down and listen to some Bob Dylan songs, and talk about how much the lyrics meant to them, and I then wrote out a whole load of Bob Dylan lyrics. I’ve let myself down haven’t I.

Now I know that lots of other NaNo’ers have spoken about doing similar things just to get their word counts up. The NaNo rules are done on trust, so there are lots of ways to cheat if you want to, but in the words of all our old school teachers, we’re only really cheating ourselves; it’s not like we’re playing for cash prizes or anything. But I didn’t want to go against their rules. It’s not that I was expecting everything I wrote to be of high literary quality, but I did expect it to all be relevant to the story, and to all be my own work, which clearly the lyrics were not.

So whilst officially I am classified as a NaNo winner, I’m really not. Those extra bits I threw in come to around 2,000 words, so I wasn’t THAT far off. Hang on a minute…there are a few more hours left before the end of November! I still might have time to replace those 2,000 words with real stuff! Be back later…

Oh, before I go, I must also give a shout out to my partner Neil, who did it too, and completed his 50,000 words! Woohoo! A big achievement as he lost over a week at the start of the month due to some technical issues. And big congratulations to the rest of you who did it too!

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68 responses to “I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo! Well…sort of…

  1. Yay, Vanessa. It’s all about the journey. Congratulations on pushing forward to the end.

    We had a NaNo get together here the Sunday before the challenge. We were asked to write a line of encouragement on a piece of paper, were given a balloon, inserted the paper inside it, blew it up and tied it off. All the balloons were thrown up in the air. The balloon you caught went home with you. When rock bottom hit and you needed encouragement, you were to break the balloon and read what was inside. I broke mine the day after I crossed the finish line as all the air had gone out of it. I LOVE what it said:

    ‘You’re not writing more than a first draft, your learning to write by experience.”

    Beautiful, isn’t it. It’s all about the journey–a true learning experience for me.

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  2. Massive well done to you Vanessa, and I think that’s a great idea logging your character onto the internet, you’d be daft not to have a little trick or two up your sleeve. I’m going to try it next year, but I’ll have a back up plan I think. Fab, fab, fab, when can we read the novel????

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    • Thank you. I might do it again next year, but I definitely think I’ll do more planning and researching first. There just isn’t the time to stop and think, or to go away and research stuff in the middle of the writing, so it’s really worth investing the time in doing a lot of that before the 1st November! And it’s definitely not anywhere near to being in a state that I would let anybody read yet!

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  3. Way to go….you should pat yourself….where every you deam appropriate…..

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  4. Good for you! I’m so impressed by those of you who do NaNo. And I think your inventiveness definitely counts. It no doubt fueled your writing by “staying in character.” 🙂

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    • Last year was the first year I heard about NaNo, and for a long time I thought that there was no way I could do that around working and kids etc, I didn’t even think it was a consideration, but over the year, I kept thinking about it, and hearing different people talking about it, and once I’d made the decision to do it I was really excited. I think I would do it again.

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  5. my god that’s amazing. apologies for swearing in a comment, but I cannot understand how it is possible to be so disciplined and read other people’s blogs. Hope you like your novel. Leave it for a month then edit (hard!). Well done. N x

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    • I think we all have an amazing capacity to fit a lot more into our lives than we think we can – I’m not suggesting it’s a good idea to keep cramming more and more in, but I think it’s good to push ourselves now and again, just to remind ourselves of what we are capable of! I’m not sure yet if I like my novel, but it will certainly need some hard editing as you say! Thanks x

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  6. Congratulations, Vanessa! 😀
    I don’t think you cheated. It’s all a learning experience, after all. (I used several wordy back story scenes – ones that have no place in the story proper – to fill out my word count, too.) What makes it an accomplishment is that you figure out how and when you can do your “best” writing, even around an already busy lifestyle. It means that our art isn’t nearly so hard to squeeze in as we sometimes might think…or convince ourselves it is. That’s worth celebrating!

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    • Thank you. It was definitely a good learning experience. I think one of the reasons I became stuck in a few places and ended up writing some completely irrelevant stuff was that I hadn’t done enough research beforehand. I had done some research, but there were some areas which hadn’t occurred to me as areas that needed research, and I just couldn’t wing my way through them! But either way, yes, we should indeed all celebrate just getting through our experience!

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  7. That’s rather inspiring. I think my biggest hang up would be having to FINISH the story. Did you (or are you about to) write a conclusion?

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    • Yes, my story did have a reasonable beginning and a reasonable end, it’s the middle where it all went a bit wrong! I had done some basic planning before I started – I had decided on the number of chapters, and I had written a one line description of what would happen in each chapter. So I had my key plot points mapped out, it’s just that getting to each one was a harder slog than I had imagined at times!

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  8. I think you write well. I can’t imagine how anything decent comes out of a rushed writing assignment like that, but you never know. The free-association technique can work well. Remember: it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

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    • Yes, I don’t think anyone goes into NaNo imagining they will emerge with a masterpiece at the end of the month, but it’s a good way of exploring a story idea to see if it has legs (or is it wings?), and it’s also a lesson in discipline. For me though I think it was more about getting past the block I had about writing a novel, I kept thinking it was beyond my capabilities, but doing this has made me realise that it’s not.

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  9. It is great!!! Congratulation!!!

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  10. No caveats here! Take your bow and be proud!

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  11. Well, Vanessa, you’ve impressed me… and I don’t think you’ve cheated at all! We’ve all had times when we’ve veered off in the middle of a conversation, haven’t we? It’s human! And you were very inventive!
    I may have a go next year. Quite a few of the blogs I follow have participated this year… and I’m inspired.
    Good for you! 🙂

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    • Yes, do give it a go next year! It can be hard going at times, but it’s definitely a good learning experience, and a chance to test out one of those story ideas that we all have lurking around in our heads somewhere. Plus it’s good to challenge ourselves now and again, right?
      Thank you 🙂

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  12. Yay, Vanessa! I echo what the others have said: you totally won. I don’t think 2,000 words is a big deal on the whole journey. And it’s very impressive that you did all of that with all of the other stuff you have going on in your life.

    Be proud! You’re amazing! I’d love to hear more about what you learned about yourself as a writer…. I love those introspective posts. ; )

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    • Thanks Anne. I think we can all say we don’t have time to do certain things, but it’s good to prove to ourselves that we really can make time for other things if they’re important enough to us.

      I may write a separate post about what I learned about myself over at Limebird sometime rather than here, so look out for it! 😉

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  13. Even if you’re being too hard on yourself and saying you came in at 48,000 words (which I think you are), that is still an amazing feat! You’ve learned how much you can write on a schedule, and you’ve tried something you’ve never done before. That makes you a winner in my book!

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    • Thank you, clever book reference at the end there! 😉

      I’m often not very disciplined about things, so irrespective of what I wrote, I’m pleased with myself for being disciplined enough to follow this through to the end and not give up!

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  14. Congratulations to both of you. It’s a huge amount of words. I would love to hear what you learned along the way.

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  15. I enjoyed your post. I would say you are a big success… it’s your deal anyway. So, Congratulations.

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  16. Yay Vanessa, we did it!!!!

    It was a tough slog some days and then others the words just rolled. Very inventive getting your characters to read something!!

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  17. You did. Pure and simple. You did it! 🙂

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  18. What a revelation! I had no idea there was such a competition, place, site, whatever you call it. I too, always wanted to write a novel and three things have stopped me. 1) Reading bad novels. I always thought, I’d rather not do it than end up with something repulsive. 2) Getting started. Even if I have an idea, where do I start? 3) I am so bored with my characters and my plot idea. Let me go off and see what’s on TV…But in one post, you’ve solved all my problems 🙂 1) Yes it will be bad, get over yourself. 2) Just start. 3) Keep writing anyway. So next year, I’m going to try too!

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    • Yes do! It really feels like quite an achievement to get through it. If you register on the site now, you’ll receive emails nearer the time reminding you of it coming up, and do buddy up with people on there (like me!) because then you all feel like you’re in it together. They also do it in the summer, I think it’s July, they call it CampNaNo (or something like that!), a lot less people take part then, November is the main one.

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  19. Hey, how did I not know that you were doing this? Have I been an inattentive reader. If so, sorry.
    By the way – I love that cheat of yours to put the fake blog post in. I’m always doing that with my short stories – shoving in whole sections from other stories. It often seems that I can write a few good scenes with a lot of flab around them, so by steeling the good parts I every so often end up with a patchwork of something that can keep my reader’s attention.
    Congratulations! When can we read it?

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  20. Whoo-hoo! You did it! Congrats. 🙂
    I like your method of cheating. I’d accept that.
    I suggested using a liberal sprinkling of adverbs but quickly found that doesn’t help an awful lot. I like to think I didn’t cheat but an editor may ask me why I described the same major situation from the point of view of various characters. Could say I was repeating myself a bit. But on the other hand different characters will see the the same situation in different ways.
    Good luck with the editing phase! 🙂

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    • I think describing the same situation from the point of view of various characters sounds like a really interesting way of writing! That’s a good thing to try, even if you only end up keeping one perspective in the final edit, it can only enrich the writing for you to have seen it from all the perspectives whilst writing it.

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  21. Proud of you, girl. I knew you could do it. You make a great point that I think a lot of people forget — that marathons aren’t supposed to be easy. Cheating is really not an issue to worry about, I don’t think. In the end, you still have to revise the darn thing. It really doesn’t matter if you have insignificant material.

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    • Yes, I think it’s expected that there will be a lot of insignificant material, even if no obvious cheating was used! A lot of removing and adding will be needed either way. I was so impressed by how quickly you reached your 50K!

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  22. Woooooooooooooooooooooooo! 😀

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  23. Congrats, Vanessa. I’d say even with the Bob Dylan songs thrown in, you accomplished your goal. Have you ever read Lord of the Rings? Goodness! He throws in pages of poems and songs. I will admit, I skimmed through those parts though.

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  24. This “challenge” is completely subjective, so give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Just don’t hurt yourself, all right?

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  25. Vanessa, I decided that I can’t possibly write a book in a month. But I was inspired, and I started. (The hardest part, it seems to me.) I was wondering, timidly, if I could send my efforts to you for your critique? I doubt you have much time, and there is no rush. It’s a murder mystery (always wanted to write one of those), set in my area of the world. I always thought that “write what you know” was the best advise.

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  26. A belated congratulations. I think a little padding is allowed in these things. You still typed the words so it all counts. 🙂

    Have a great Christmas!

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    • Oops, didn’t reply to this! Thank you, and it was of course mostly down to your NaNo talk that I went for it!

      Hope you have a great Christmas too! Oh…a bit late for that. Hope you HAD a great Christmas 🙂

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      • I’ll let you off. I’m kind like that 😉

        I’m glad I helped push you into NaNo. Did you enjoy the experience?

        Christmas seems so long ago now. Not long before it’ll all start again!

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