Friday, 6 November 2009


It’s National Novel Writing Month again, that madcap annual race to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 otherwise dreich* days of November (at least it is, here in England).

In 2007 I did it for the first time, but had to abandon 2008 after 6 days because of a family emergency (see previous post). And so here I am again, just about keeping up the daily wordage and thoroughly enjoying it in a scary roller-coastery sort of way.

Here’s why I do it:

1. It’s fun, especially if you have the competitive urge.

2. It’s serious.

3. For those of us who can procrastinate to Olympic standards it has a foolproof built-in secret weapon: a DEADLINE (not so secret, then, but it really does work).

4. To make the word count and deadline, you have to write with the brakes off, disabling your Inner Editor and your Inner Critic, that pair of dispiriting demons. No plot is too preposterous, no character too cringeworthy, no scene too silly. This your chance to try ’em all.

5. It’s fun. Really.

However, I’m sure most proper novelists will think NaNoWriMo an absurd and futile waste of time, perhaps even belittling to their careful craft. But I, and probably thousands of fellow NaNo nutcases, look upon it (and this is the 6th and most important reason for doing it) as a no-holds-barred, all brake-cables-cut, 30-day brainstorming session at the end of which we’ll be rewarded with our own tottering pile of literary poo - and a lot of it will certainly be umitigated poo, having been written at such an unfeasible pace. But from all that dross, a few rough-diamond-like characters and exciting plot-bunnies will be twinkling irresistibly out at us. These we can spend the coming months carefully extracting and polishing to shining perfection. In theory.

The NaNoWriMo website is full of encouragement and jokes, whilst the NaNoWriMo handbook, No Plot, No Problem! (UK, USA), written by that inestimable genius Chris Baty, founder of all this inspiring nonsense, is crammed with brilliant motivational tips which you don't have to be NaNo-ing to use.

Last year I put up a wordcount widget here – and look what happened. But as I don’t believe there’s a Providence to be Tempted I’ll probably put one up again, if I can remember how to do it.

Right, so. I’m off on another trip to NaNoLand. I'm excited because I'm on the verge of inserting my first plot ninja (cunning devices to further the plot and up the wordcount): This one's called The Travelling Shovel of Death.

You see, NaNowriMo doesn't take itself too seriously. Just seriously enough.

*dreich is Scottish for "dull, damp and miserable." I got the this expressive word from my mother-in-law.


Carla said...

Good luck! What's a plot ninja? The Travelling Shovel of Death would make a great title :-)

November hasn't been all that dreich so far this year, touch wood.

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

As far as I can tell, a plot ninja is a device you can inject into your NaNo novel to move the plot forward when stuck and/or part of challenge to see how many ninjas you can mention in one NaNo novel.

By the way, Carla, I've just written a acene in which stuffed dormice play a prominent part. I must inform Prof. Mary Beard at once.

Carla said...

Be sure to tell her the page number, or other marker of its position relative to the rest of your novel. Her test involved how soon stuffed dormice appeared, as well as their actual presence :-)

By the way, did you see the film footage of dormice (unstuffed) on Autumnwatch last week? It'll probably be on the iPlayer if you missed it. A lady who rescues abandoned parrots found that dormice were creeping in at night to steal the parrots' food, so Gordon Buchanan was sent along to film them with a night camera. So cute :-) The dormice, that is.

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Carla, I'm afraid the stuffed dormice appear regrettably early in the proceedings (page 29). I'd better move them along a bit...

If I remember aright, Prof Beard also said the Senate banned the consumption of dormice sometime BC (my story is c100AD) but I bet the naughty culinary practice just went into hibernation until the fuss died down.

Thanks for reminding me to catch up with last Friday's Autumnwatch!

Ruth said...

Hi Sarah - and welcome back, by the way - I was wondering where you were but it seemed rude to ask...

NaNoWriMo is a brilliant idea. Good luck with this year's attempt. It must surely encourage fluency and risk-taking whilst doing away with the endless time-wasting tweaking that's such a temptation when you write direct onto a computer.

As for the quality of the result - I met a much-published author recently who drafts her (quite long) novels in a fortnight, then spends six months making them publishable. So you never know!

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Ruth, it would take a lot longer than six months to make my NaNo novel publishable. In fact the way it's going it'll never be publishable. But so far it has given me some promising ideas to cannibalise.