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5 things I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016

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For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing event where writers all across the world are invited to write 50,000 words within November.

Yes, I actually managed it. To write 50,000 words in 30 days. To brave the early mornings, with bleary eyes and cold limbs; the frantic late nights, with aching feet and exhausted bones. This month, where my mind had completely crippled its creative capability, only to have a few hours sleep to recharge for the next day.

In 2015 I only managed 35k, which, at the time, I thought was quite an achievement. Now I’ve reached the ‘official’ finish line it feels great, but I still haven’t finished writing the novel. It’ll probably be another 50k before I do!

Here are the 5 things I’ve learnt this year, and hope that it encourages a budding writer to take part in next year’s frenzy:

1. Don’t let your other commitments stop you.

In 2015, I was a final year university student with, let’s face it, plenty more time than I had now. Despite that, I didn’t manage to win, and that made me cautious about reaching 50k this year as I had started a full time job.

I actually got off to a good start and was slightly ahead of the game for the first few days. In the middle I hit a slump but still wrestled through. I wrote in the mornings after fajr and when that was too painful, I knew in the evening I’d have to eat a quick dinner and get back to it. I wrote on my phone in the car before I stepped into work and again on my lunch breaks.

What this showed me is that you do have time to write. Anywhere and any time. Remember, NaNo is just about the writing itself. Editing is a whole other monster to tame, but just to write is much more fluid. Just do it whenever the feeling comes to you.

2. Uninhibited writing is brilliant

My novel had been brewing in my mind for several months. I had already wrote out a few scenes but nothing seemed right. I just couldn’t tell the story the way it was playing out in my head. I knew NaNo was the opportunity to write without any pit stops, breaks, or even any thinking. Just write whatever comes to my mind.

That was brilliant.

It means anything weird and wonderful can be born on the page, without feeling the need to hit the backspace or furiously scribble the out the words. No one will look at this crappy first draft, unless you give them permission. I know for a fact that the first drafts of any novel I write are completely out of bounds for any mortal being to lay eye upon.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of mornings and nights where stringing together words felt as painful as prodding my brain with a dagger (That’s where point 4 comes into play). But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft. When you let yourself write terribly you’ll find that the creativity of the story and the characters themselves start to shine better in your eyes, which is what I prefer to focus on in the first draft anyway.

3. Don’t look back. Not yet, at least.

Do not press backspace. If I genuinely cringed at something, but it was worth, say, 100 words, I’d just highlight it and click ‘strike-through’. That way it still counts towards my word goals, but when I get to editing I at least know it needs some work or needs to be deleted. Cheating? I call it NaNo-ing smartly 😉

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Daily word counts. See the infamous dip in the middle? A lot of self doubt going on there…

4. The community is wonderful

Join the forums (but don’t get too distracted), or dedicated Facebook groups, or even find people through Twitter. Don’t do this alone, because writing can be a lonely pursuit. Find cheerleaders to keep you going when you can’t bear to cheer yourself on any longer.

Word sprints are definitely what got me through: a casual challenge with other WriMos to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. In reality no one is bothered who wins these sprints, because all that matters is that you wrote something.

That’s what’s lovely about the writing community: no one is trying to one-up you in anything. Everyone’s running towards the same goal, and if you trip or stumble, be sure that someone will catch you and pull you back up on your feet (or at least smack you to your senses).

5. If you want to do something, go do it. Go get your goals.

Yes, a slightly cheesy number 5, but a truth nonetheless. I’ve always, always wanted to be a writer, an author, or anything to do with words (let’s question my day job at a later time…). NaNo has shown me that I can write 50,000 words in one month, something I never thought I could do before. What’s to stop me from finishing this novel draft? From editing my novels? From actually getting published? The publishing journey can be a long and arduous road, but don’t be disheartened.

Remember what is at the core of your journey: your wonderful words.

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Good news!

It’s nothing amazing or spectacular or even really that big. But it is, to me.

I finally got published!! *yay*

Just a short story really, less than 1,000 words, nothing special… but still — something I wrote is actually published. Alhamdulillah 🙂

Big thank you to Bunbury Magazine for giving me this opportunity, this stepping stone in my publishing and writing journey. You can find ‘Red’ in Issue 14 of the magazine here. All they ask for is a small contribution towards the magazine to help keep it running. That sounds fair, right?

And now to leave you with one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books 🙂

“– a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed, from what source I cannot tell.” – Jane Eyre