National Novel Writing Month: The Debate


This November will see the 19th annual National Novel Writing Month take place. Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, the basic idea — if you haven’t heard of it — is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.

It sounds easier than it is, and in fact, requires a fair amount of commitment to hit the 50k in the space of one month. You need to write a very basic minimum of 1700 words each day, which when you balance everything up against all of life’s other commitments — a day job, kids, family, social time, etc. — you can start to get an idea of the amount of time that’s required.

My good pal Devon Ellington wrote an interesting blog a few days ago called Reasons I Should Not Do Nano, about her internal debate on whether or not to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. In it, she balances up all of her life and work commitments against the pros for taking part, and her article made me think about my own situation.

The pros for taking part are strong. You kick off on day one with an idea for a grand new novel — it may be plotted out or you may decide to wing it — but the goal is to start a fresh and exciting new project, and push through it until you have 50k words down on paper. It’s hard work and it can be a lot of fun.

I first took part in 2006, armed with only a basic idea for a story, a laptop and no planning whatsoever. I started writing at 5am on the 1st November, and by the end of the month, I had 70,000 words and the core of a decent novel. Months later the book was completed, edited and produced, and it hit the shelves known as Slick.

The following year was pretty much the same (basic idea, no planning), except this time I only just crawled across the line. And because I hadn’t planned for it and struggled to make it to the 50k, I let the novel go, only picking it up sporadically in several half-hearted attempts to complete it. That novel never saw the light of day until July this year and it was called Gatecrash.

Back in 2006/07 though, I was working full-time both in my day job and as a freelance writer and website designer. My time was fully occupied and I had begun to lose sight of the writing priorities that meant more to me. Since then, there has been a five-year spell where I never wrote a single word and used much of the time to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. The end result was to focus on thriller fiction as well as punk poetry under a pseudonym; two work-streams instead of the multiples I had running all at once ten years previous.

So this year I approach November in a good place and with a good life balance already in existence, and this includes plenty of time to commit to writing new novels. Moving into late September, my plan had been to take a pause in the novel planning that was already underway for my holiday in Greece, and use that two weeks to work on a new chapbook. This would then give me two weeks to finish up the new novel planning when I returned home in October, and I would use NaNoWriMo as the spur to write it.

What I hadn’t counted on was the sudden flash of inspiration I had for another novel I never saw coming, which has since taken over everything. It’s to be my first novel with Bob Lennox as the protagonist as opposed to the supporting role he played in Slick, and it’s actually pissing me off having to wait until 1st November before starting to write it.

But that’s the whole point. I’m excited about it and itching to get underway. I’ve got a burning idea with some great characters in a great location with some great thrilling twist points. In short, it is perfect for NaNoWriMo and will be the next novel to come after the next one already lined up to be published around the turn of the year. So you can probably expect to see it sometime in 2018.

Some people use NaNoWriMo to finish existing projects, some to continue other forms of manuscript, and others to test out other writing forms as an alternative. But I believe the spirit of the whole thing is what gives it the biggest pull of all, and that is that you start a new novel on day one and see it through to the end. It means all other projects sit aside (possible in my case; not if you’re a working writer for example) leaving you to focus solely on that one story.

For me, NaNoWriMo gives me the chance to fully dedicate to a novel and this year the timing is simply perfect. I’d be writing the new Lennox novel regardless, but with NaNoWriMo being just around the corner, I have the chance to be involved and give it a really good shot at completing it.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t just an online project, it has a physical form too. There’s a community of writers all over the world taking part, and in cafes and bookshops and other spaces, local writers come together and support each other in their individual projects, all in the name of the 50k goal. I’ve met a lot of people through NaNoWriMo, and some I still know to this day, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually be as involved this year as much as I was ten years ago.

If you’re interested in tracking my progress, I’ll likely post a few blog posts as the journey progresses (time allowing). I’ve also added a wee word tracker to the blog (top-right menu) and there’s always Twitter and Facebook too.

So here we go. The novel is plotted (to an extent), the laptop is charged, I’m in first gear and the engine is revving waiting for the green light on 1st November. Bring it on!


About Colin Galbraith

Keen runner, thriller author, Madness fan, Mets fan, St Mirren fan/owner, rabbit tamer, outstanding fake faller. Loves cannolis & espressos. #LFGM
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1 Response to National Novel Writing Month: The Debate

  1. Excellent post — great things to weigh as one makes the decision “to Nano or not to Nano.”

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