As everyone apparently knows, next month is National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo (having this trip off your tongue is, it appears, a badge of the seriousness with which you take your craft; I’ve been practising for days). The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel, start to finish, by the end of the month.
In itself, this doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility. If you give yourself the odd day off, you’d be looking at 2,000 words a day. I’ve written that much before – sometimes more, if the juices are flowing – although I’m not foolish enough to think that doing it virtually every day for a month wouldn’t be a challenge.
And NaNoWriMo is coming at a good time for me. I’m back to work in January – oh yes, Sunday marked the half way point of my unpaid leave, so it’s all downhill from here – and making a serious dent in a second novel before then would definitely count as a big tick against the Time-Off To Do List.
There are just a few problems.
First, I know that my novel will need to be longer than 50,000 words. Draft two of the first one is pretty much bang on 100,000 words, and that had fewer plot complexities. I don’t want to write some ponderous tome no-one will ever have the stamina to get to the end of, but 50,000 words isn’t going to cut the mustard.
I’m not sure this is terminal though. Perhaps instead of national novel writing month, this could be my half-novel writing month? MyHaNoWriMo. I think that has a ring to it.
But my second problem is planning; for yes, I am a planner.
When I was trying to work out how to go from the glimmer of an idea I’d had to a fully-fledged novel, I did the obvious thing: I googled. Nestled amongst the pages of results was an intriguing reference to the “Snowflake Method” developed by a chap with the improbable name of Randy Ingermanson. It was thanks to Randy that I finally managed to progress beyond abortive first chapters to the second draft of a whole, novel-length thing. It might not be brilliant, but it does at least exist. (You can find out all about Randy’s work at his website, AdvancedFictionWriting.com. He’s got a newsletter too. And it’s all free!)
What Randy and his snowflake gave me was a framework to organise my thoughts and build my story. His argument is that by spending a reasonable amount of time on this upfront – he estimates around a hundred hours – the process of writing the first draft becomes a lot easier because by then you know so much about both your story and your characters. I know this kind of approach doesn’t work for everyone – and even I, inveterate planner that I am, ran out of steam by the time he got to step nine – but there was a lot there that made sense to me.
So – a hundred hours of prep. Well, with a month to go, there’s still time.
Which brings me to my third problem: the compost.
Before we even get to Randy’s first step, he imagines you’ve spent a long time thinking about your novel – the story, the characters, the theme. He calls this part of the process “composting”.
This is all well and good, but composting takes time. Yes, I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a few characters starting to form in my mind. I think I know what the main theme is going to be. But is that sufficient?
I read somewhere once that composting could be speeded up by peeing on the compost heap. For some reason, I have remembered this very clearly as requiring a man to do the peeing. I don’t know if there’s something relevant here about male hormones, whether it’s just about ease of aim, or whether I actually made it up myself in a failed attempt to persuade my husband he should do it. But what I want to know is – given that peeing on my laptop seems unlikely to yield positive results, what’s the literary equivalent to speed things up?
Sitting and staring out of the window doesn’t seem to be helping a lot. Neither does adding a cup of tea into the equation. Whatever the solution, I’d better hurry up and find it before MyHaNoWriMo is dead in the water…