Can you really writer a novel in a month? Maggie Womersley is about to find out.
As I write this the days are getting shorter and the nights arrive laced with a frisson of dark delights to come. Soon the damp air will be scented with spent gunpowder and bonfire smoke and then all too soon, Christmas! So what better time of year to hunker down at home and dream up a dark tale to tell by the fireside this winter.
Let me take you back a few years – almost two hundred to be exact – to 1816 and “the year without a summer”; sound familiar? A young girl is holidaying in Europe with her boyfriend and the couple call in at a palatial villa by the shores of Lake Geneva to visit some friends. Forced indoors because of the melancholic weather the chums decide to have a competition to see who can write the best horror story. That night, the young girl dreams of a scientist who creates life, only to be horrified by what he has done. She wakes the next day and begins the first draft of a story that will become one of the most famous and influential novels of all time. The author is Mary Shelley, and her story is Frankenstein.
In fact, despite that first lightning bolt of fantastical inspiration, it took Mary Shelley about a year to finish her novel – which is not bad going, especially when you consider she was using a quill for Godsake! I, on the other hand, will be giving myself just a month to write my contemporary gothic sci-fi fable. But like Mary, I won’t be embarking on the challenge alone – hundreds, maybe thousands of other writers will also be taking up the challenge to write a novel in a month via the NaNoWriMo (that’s ‘National Novel Writing Month’ to the uninitiated) online community. The project, which started in 1999 with just 21 participants, has grown to over 200,000 thousand people taking up the challenge in recent year. Once enrolled on the website, NaNoWriMonthers work to complete 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. For all you number-crunchers out there, that’s a colossal 2.8 billion word splurge in just 30 days.
I’ve never had much problem getting vast numbers of words onto the page, as anyone who has followed the painful progress of my first novel, Eddie Bain’s House of Horrors will testify to. 50,000 words in one month doesn’t scare me – no Siree! I laugh in the face of the obsessive word-counters. I’m far more frightened about not being able to finish what I’ve started, about creating a plot that works, and characters that feel real. So that’s why I’ll be combining the NaNoWriMo challenge with Karen Weisner’s boot-camp method for completing the first draft of a novel in 30 Days. Published in extract form last weekend in The Guardian, this step-by-step guide promises to “eliminate the problems that plague fiction writers”, and I don’t think we’re talking about running out of biscuits or having to break off mid-sentence to do another school run. Karen’s going to coach me into crafting an outline so detailed and watertight that it “Actually qualifies as the first draft” of my new novel. They’ll be handy worksheets to download and live lunchtime master-classes to tune into online. Actually the master-classes have already started and I haven’t managed to be at my computer for any of them yet, despite the heavy hints that I should be squeezing them into my ‘lunchbreak’ (ha! Chance would be a fine thing) but I’m hoping I’ll be able to track them down before the challenge begins. So basically I’m entering myself into a kind of Iron Man novel-writing challenge – I will not only write a great amount of words, but I will turn them into sentences that tell a compelling story with style and originality – well, that’s the plan. And if that isn’t enough to test my mettle I shall be blogging about my progress her at Writers’ Hub, tweeting from my brand new twitter account and keeping up my profile on the NaNoWriMo website. There will be no ironing in the month of November, there will a lot of Baked Potatoes on the menu and I bleached the toilet yesterday so hopefully that’ll last us through to December. You may not want to come round to my house for the next five weeks, but I hope you’ll follow my progress here and elsewhere, or why not join me in the challenge and go for it!
Follow Maggie Womersley as she attempts to write an entire novel in one month @maggiewomersley
Guardian Series: How to Write a Book in 30 Days