(nanowrimo) My experience of writing a novel in 30 days

Nanowrimo Bilan 2017

Last November, I’ve participated to a writing challenge called Nanowrimo, standing for National Novel Writing Month. A novel is just defined by the number of words,  50,000, the genre does not matter, and the challenge is to write it in 30 days, during the month of November.

I signed in for free on the Nanowrimo website, and each day, I wrote my story and noted the word count on the website. When I reached 50,000, on Day 25, I validated it by copy-pasting my novel on the website – without saving it and… I won! What did I win? I just won the fact of having written a novel, at least the first draft.

Octoberprep

The Nanowrimo rule for those who write something brand new (you can also work on an on-going project) is to start writing on November 1st, nothing before that date, but you can get ready and prepare beforehand.

That’s what I did in October, when I decided to participate, I felt more comfortable not starting from complete scratch on the d-day. My prep consisted in writing a few descriptions of the main characters: who they were, what they liked, disliked, where they lived, their habits, etc. I had also an idea of the plot, but I wanted it to be loose, not to force anything to happen. I read something interesting that Stephen King said about writing stories: they already exist, the task of the writer is to uncover them.

My daily writing sessions

To reach 50,000 words at the end of the month, I needed to write 1,667  words every day. I wrote mostly in the morning, but it wasn’t always doable, so I did a few night sessions.

I wanted to write every day so I could win a medal – a virtual one – if I wrote 30 days in a row, it’s exactly the kind of silly motivation that works on me.

The writing sessions looked pretty similar, day after day: I sat in front of my computer, put on a finger-less glove on my right hand – the one that gets cold quickly, I read the threads I’ve left on my notebook the day before, picked one of them and started writing. It took me about 45 minutes to write the daily count of words.

After the writing session, I felt empty and thought that I was done FOREVER. That’s all I got, bye.

It can seem paradoxical because I was the one making all the decisions, but I felt like I had to listen to what the characters had to tell me. At the end of a session, I wrote down where everybody was at, the very threads I had to keep working on the day after, even though I had no real idea where it was going. I had to trust me, and trust my characters.

When the writing was done, I wasn’t done with the process yet. I thought about it all day long. Flossing in front of my mirror helped me, biking too, talking to my friends about some completely different stuff: it may have looked that I was daydreaming but I was super focused, or at least my brain was busy trying to figure out how to make sense of everything. I paid more attention to the conversations around me, behaviors, tiny stuff. That’s totally what this character could have said/done: I was looking for inspiration in anything and everything.

Sometimes, but not every day, I did 2 writing sessions. I didn’t want to overdo it though, I didn’t want to lose the pleasure of writing. I wanted to be eager to sit every morning and write my story.

Nanowrimo Stats

My daily stats

Forgetting about my inner editor

Writing comes easy to me (I should say, writing in French): as far as I can remember it’s been easy, and I practiced a lot over the years, writing several non-fiction books and this blog for more than 5 years. In a word, I’m used to write. It’s probably why Nanowrimo has not been a painful experience for me. The real game-changer was the rule of shutting down my inner editor. The goal is to write 50,000 words = it’s more about quantity than quality. There’s no self-critics allowed, which really helps to write even faster and better: I can do what I want. It’s very freeing: I wasn’t constantly wondering if what I wrote was any good, or if this whole project was even worth my time. I just did it.

Some assistance

I told a few friends I was doing Nanowrimo, to be accountable. I had some doubts about saying it, but it was recommended on the guidelines. I was surprised of the effects 1) people were curious and very encouraging 2) I learned that some of my friends wanted to do the same, they also wanted to write a novel, but never really tried. I hope they’ll find the desire to do it next year!

Even though I said I was writing a novel, I didn’t say to anybody what it was about: I didn’t want to be influenced or judged. But I did use some assistance, not on the story itself, but on the way of moving the story forward:

  • I followed a few Youtube live videos from the Nanowrimo team; they were super helpful to unblock some scenes or emulate creativity.
  • I read the book No Plot, No problem, written by the founder of Nanowrimo. I’ve read everything about the prep before starting, and in the course of November I used the weekly chapters on recommendations and pep talks.

nanowrimo 2017

The most popular genres of Nanowriters

What now?

Well… not much. The novel is written, the story has a beginning and an end, I’ve printed it, but I haven’t looked at it, read it or even touched it. I plan to read it in January, and now, I’m letting it sink in. When I’ll read it, I’ll decide what I do with it. If it sucks, that’s it, I’ll let it go, and if I feel that I can do something with it and that I’m still interested in the story, I’ll start the revisions. I know that a first draft is never good, but I’ll try to have a sense of what I want to do with it.

A final word

I’m super happy and proud I’ve done this first Nanowrimo. I liked the fact of being focused on this one task that seemed impossible at first. I’ve tried before to write a novel, but failed. I finally let go of the excuses and start doing it again. The word count, the deadline, the community around this event: it works for me!

I’ve read something interesting in the conclusion of No plot no problem. Why do we write? It can be intimidating. People around us want to read what we write, give their opinion, and it seems that the only sign of success is to be published. But what about having as a hobby jigsaw puzzles, cook, or play baseball? We don’t expect of these people to become champion of the world of jigsaw puzzles, famous chefs, nor athletes. I found this very motivating: I just do it cause I like writing stories. It’s a hobby.

✎ If you’ve participated to Nanowrimo, how was your experience? if you want to do it, what are your questions or fears? Share in the comments below!

Writer, organizer and social media-ter for my own blog. When I'm not in front of my laptop, I'm organizing guided tours of Boston with my own company "Boston le nez en l'air". It's in French!

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27 Comments

  • Reply Dec 13 2017

    Jéromine

    Salut Mathilde, j’ai une question qui peut paraître bête mais tu as écrit en quelle langue ? Et si tu as écrit en français est ce que tu as soulevé l’idée d’écrire en anglais ?

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      En français ! c’est la langue qui reste pour moi la plus accessible pour écrire.
      Je lis de plus en plus en anglais, mais mon écriture reste grammaticalement faible et limitée de façon générale.

  • Reply Dec 13 2017

    Marie

    Laisseras-tu tes lecteurs du blog le lire ?! J’espère :)

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Hello Marie,
      Je n’ai pas encore relu ce que j’avais écrit, donc c’est loin d’être prêt à être rendu public

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Marie Bambelle

    J’attendais ce bilan avec beaucoup d’impatience et je suis heureuse pour toi que tu aies réussi, bravo !
    Pour avoir rendu des mémoires pendant mes études où il fallait “minimum 12000 mots” et avoir des fois galéré sur la fin, je suis admirative. Comme toi, j’adore écrire. Mais j’aime expliquer, raconter, faire connaître ou faire rire… mais la fiction, je ne sais pas faire. Alors tu as vraiment toute mon admiration, et j’espère qu’en janvier tu nous reparleras de l’avancée de ce projet !
    En tout cas, merci pour la conclusion qui décomplexe. C’est vrai que je n’avais jamais envisagé la création comme un hobby et que “mais arrête de perdre ton temps, ça sert à quoi de toute façon” me passe souvent par la tête quand je dessine par exemple. Je vais changer de perspective :)
    Enfin, petite question de pure curiosité : dans quel genre est-ce que tu situerais ton roman ?

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Merci Marie ! J’ai très peu écrit de fiction jusqu’à présent, et en effet, ça me semble un peu différent dans le process que la non-fiction (est-ce que c’est vraisemblable ? où j’en suis des perso? etc.)
      J’aime bien l’idée de “perdre mon temps” à faire des trucs créatifs 😀

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Aurore

    Encore une fois, je trouve ce concept vraiment génial ! Félicitations pour avoir tout accompli !

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Merci Aurore ! Tu t’y mets l’année prochaine alors ?

      • Reply Dec 20 2017

        Aurore

        Oui, j’ai vraiment envie ! :)

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Audrey Mills

    Ah mais carrément ! Ce concept et génial….
    Que je suis contente d’avoir découvert ton blog ! Plus je te lis, plus j’ai l’impression que toi et moi ops a plein de choses en commun ! A vite x

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Hello Audrey,
      bienvenue sur le blog ! Quelles choses en commun par exemple ?

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Elodie

    Congrats ! Je devais le faire cette année mais cela fut hélas impossible… j’espère me rattraper l’année prochaine.
    Depuis toute petite je rêve de publier mon roman, à l’époque je disais “comme ça il restera une trace de moi quand je ne serais plus là” (je ne m’en souviens pas j’avoue, mais ma grand mère s’en rappelle parfaitement!) Bref, ce qu’il me manque c’est la motivation et surtout l’idée, le thème qui me fera me lancer !

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Ah mais tu te mets une pression de malade en disant que c’est pour la postérité 😀
      Regarde ce que propose Nanowrimo comme aide, ça commence simplement, la motivation, l’idée, le thème, tout est là pour avancer sans prise de tête

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Marion

    Wow, félicitations, c’est impressionnant comme rythme ! Je pense depuis quelques années à écrire un polar mais je me dégonfle en permanence devant la somme de travail à effectuer. Je me dis qu’il faudrait peut etre juste que je m’impose un rythme de ce type, un peu moins soutenu quand même, pour écrire le premier jet. Ton retour d’expérience est très inspirant.

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Je te conseille ce programme alors ! c’est motivant de le faire dans un cadre bien défini, avec des conseils et une communauté !

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    Constance

    Bravo, Bravo! Ca me semble énorme 50,000 mots je suis donc super impressionnée par ceux qui arrivent au bout du NaNoWriMo, mais c’est vrai que ton article donne très envie de tenter l’expérience, surtout quand on est du genre à aimer écrire.
    Je suis assez d’accord avec ta vision de l’écriture comme hobby, quand j’étais petite et que je n’y voyais rien d’autre qu’un loisir j’écrivais bien plus, sans pression. Aujourd’hui je me sentirai ridicule de dire que j’écris – j’ai déjà du mal à dire que j’écris sur un blog alors…

    Et évidemment, comme beaucoup, je serais curieuse de connaitre le “genre” de ce roman.

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Hello Constance,
      J’ai été surprise de la réaction des amis, tout le monde était bienveillant, curieux et encourageant (ou dans le pire des cas : juste ok, fine). Tu devrais le faire !

  • Reply Dec 14 2017

    AMY

    Félicitations pour ce défi réussi ! Je suis admirative des gens qui arrivent à créer des histoires.
    Tu as relevé ce challenge pour toi et c’est tout ce qui compte.

  • Reply Dec 16 2017

    Antoine

    Bravo Mathilde, je suis heureux que tu aies mene le projet a bien. L aspect creation comme hobby sans objectif ulterieur est superbe. Tres rafraichissant, j ai hate de lire le resultat, ou pas!

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Merci Antoine ! c’était sympa d’en parler avec toi au fil du mois.

  • Reply Dec 16 2017

    isa

    Bravo Mathilde ! J’ai hâte de savoir ce que tu vas penser de ton manuscrit en janvier !
    Un jour, j’oserai… :-)

    • Reply Dec 18 2017

      Mathilde

      Hello Isa, j’ai reçu la newsletter de Nanowrimo pendant 5 ans sans la voir, et cette année, je me suis dit que c’était la bonne. Une fois que la motivation est en marche, “la machine” suit !

  • Reply Jan 1 2018

    marie

    Bravo ! Il faut que je me motive pour l’année prochaine…. Pour m’amuser. mais en grande procrastinatrice doublée d’une flemmarde ça risque d’être compliqué.

    • Reply Jan 3 2018

      Mathilde

      J’ai attendu longtemps avant de m’y mettre… parfois il faut la petite motivation supplémentaire, l’envie de le faire et d’avancer sans trop se poser de questions

  • Reply Feb 19 2018

    Stacy

    Hello Mathilde !

    Bravo à toi pour cette réussite ! ça donne super envie de tenter l’expérience ! Je vais me renseigner pour essayer l’année prochaine :)
    Et je suis entièrement d’accord avec ton dernier paragraphe : c’est cent fois plus relaxant de penser l’écriture comme un hobby !

    • Reply Feb 20 2018

      Mathilde

      Cool ! tu me diras si tu te lances !

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