NaNoWriMo: A novel approach

Each year, aspiring writers are challenged to produce a 50,000-word work in a month. Anne Penketh embarked on a fictional journey with her murder mystery, The Marsh

I'd been mulling the idea of a novel set in the marshes of Blakeney Point ever since finding out that an independent publisher was interested in Norfolk Gothic fiction.

So when a friend told me that November was National November Writing Month, I decided to sign up to the challenge to write 50,000 words between 1 and 30 November.

Yes, it's daunting. The first thing I had to do was learn how to pronounce NaNoWriMo. I was now a Wrimo among almost half a million from all over the world. But encouraged by the fact that 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, I registered my novel, The Marsh. My idea went something as follows: a mother and child catch sight of something in the mists. The next day the mother, who had supernatural powers, is murdered. Enter Detective Chief Inspector Sam Newby. And with that minimal framework in mind, I set off on my 30-day fictional journey. I am amazed at where it led me.

How do you write a novel in 30 days? NaNoWriMo, a US-based charity set up by Chris Baty 14 years ago, is there to help. The site provides online coaching sessions via Twitter, and I received invitations from the French branch (I live in France) to collective writing sessions around Paris.

Here's what bestselling novelist Lev Grossman told me and the other Wrimos in a pep-talk email on 19 November, when we were past the half-way mark : "Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It's a war of inches where the hardest part is keeping your nerve."

But can a novel written under such a tight deadline be any good? I found there was one big advantage: the continuity meant that I was able to keep the whole project in my head, which made it easier to approach than my still-unpublished first novel.

Early on, I'd decided that the only way I would finish would be to reach my target figure of 2,000 words daily. Sometimes I would hit a dead end and not know where the story was going next. But a phone call to my Auntie Betty in Norfolk invariably overcame my plot panic.

Then there was the temptation to procrastinate. But again NaNoWriMo had good advice: don't get bogged down doing online research, they would say. Just write!

The conditions for joining the NaNoWriMo community are few. If you want to donate, you can, but it's not compulsory. The novel, or memoir, has to be a new project, so there's no point in pasting onto the site a previously written book just to obtain a winner's certificate. And "bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month", says the NaNoWriMo oracle.

One of the frequently asked questions on the site is: "Can I write one word 50,000 times?" The answer: "No. Well. No." It's up to everyone to be honest, as each completed novel is counted by a computer script before being deleted.

Of course, many Wrimos fall by the wayside every year. My Twitter feed was full of anguished writers whose hand-wringing only fed my own self-doubt. Last year, out of 341,375 participants, only 38,438 people reached the magic 50,000-word figure by the deadline.

This year, on my first attempt, I'm a winner and have a certificate to prove it. I completed 50,098 words of The Marsh on 29 November. It may only be a first draft, but without NaNoWriMo, I wouldn't have achieved even that. µ

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project