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National Novel Writing Month – Val Healy Part Three

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft

Valerie Healy

I feel like I am saying good bye to an old friend now as November draws to a close and we come to the end of the National Novel Writing Month.  I am happy to say that I made it and crossed the finish line with about 7 days left to go and I continued on writing until the last day, finishing with a word count of 60K. When I started NANO for the first time, I had two goals, achieve my word-count of 50K and develop some kind of daily writing habit.  However, I found as the month went on what I gained was a whole lot more than I had first expected from my NANO experience.

When I started, I had the beginning and the end of my novel but I had no idea what to write in the middle.  I have written and rewritten the beginning of the novel many times but always stopped after this as I didn’t know what to write next. After reading one of the many Pep talks that you receive each week, I realised that I could go on and write the end part – I did this, and this is when everything changed for me.  My characters came alive, my ending changed as the characters informed me where they wanted to go and the middle part no longer seemed like the black hole it had been previously.  I closed the door on the inner critic and let out my inner passion and fall in love with my flawed characters and where the story was going.

There was one pep talk on the site by Neil Gaiman where he talks about being stuck in the middle of his book and felt his characters were thin and the plot was pointless and ringing his agent to tell her that he is going to pack it in and start another project, she laughed at him and said, “Oh you are at that part of the book”.  He is amazed by her reaction and asks if he has done this before, to which she replied “Yes you do it every time you write a novel but so do all my other clients too”.   These words will still play in my head long after November has ended and I continue to write many more novels, I will remember them when I get to that part of my book and just struggle on.

NANO is essentially a writing tool and how you choose to use it will be an individual choice however for a new writer who hasn’t gone through the whole process of finishing their 1st complete draft, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  I have discovered that after the initial excitement and enthusiasm of the first few chapters, the inner critic escapes and the blank pages loom, this is the point when the doubts creep in and the time most beginners like me, will give up.  Now that I know I am not alone in having these feelings, after all, even Neil Gaiman gets panicky at this point, you just keep going.

If you struggle writing the next scene, you just move on to another one or you write a piece of dialogue between your characters or as one of the pep talks suggests blow up one of your characters for the fun of it but the main thing is that you keep going.  Before I started NANO, I would have packed it in at this point but having received the pep talks into my inbox perfectly timed each week, I was able to continue and overcome my writers block and I can’t tell you how happy I am that I continued because it was then that my characters came alive and I fell in love with them. Writing the rest of the book was easy at this point as the words just flowed out onto the page and my inner passion for the story was released.  Writing a book is a bit like moving into a new house.

You can get lots of stuff for your new house before you move in but you don’t really know what will work where and what is really needed until you have lived in it for a few months.  The same can be said of your novel, you can plan your plot and work on your characters beforehand but you don’t really get a feel for it until you get stuck into the middle of it when the story and characters come alive and take over.

Another NANO aim which helped me get the words down too was to just write.  Don’t worry about the grammar or spellings, just worry about getting the words out and onto the page.  I found that the more I wrote, the more storylines came to me and the more storylines that came, the more excited I felt about my writing and the more I wanted to continue.  Now that I have been through the whole process, I know that a 1st draft is essentially to get the bones of the story down and it’s the 2nd and 3rd drafts where the magic can be added and the grammar fixed and so on.  There is so much encouragement offered by fellow participants as well throughout the month on your region’s forums and lots of helpful tips to encourage you to just write, write, write.

If I was to sum up my experience in a few words I would say that it was been exciting, difficult at times, tiring but completely worth every emotion I have felt each day as I sat down to write.  I walk away from NANO with a complete 1st draft of my novel to work on, a feel for the high and low points in the process where your determination is needed to keep going, a daily writing habit by getting up at 5.30am which I intend to continue and the knowledge that I can write a novel from start to finish.

I started November as an aspiring writer but I finish it a writer!

About the author

(c) Valerie Healy, November 2011.

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