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continuity meant that I was able to keep the whole project in my head, which made it easier to approach than my still-unpublished first novel.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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing