Friday, 13 November 2009


Morning all. Just got back from a very wet walk with MollieDog on the beach and awaiting further storms. So it's a mug of Rooibosh or I can offer PG Tips or herbal, Gold Blend or Tesco's decaff. Not very inspiring here I'm afraid.

This is for all you Na No writers -

Back in 1995 I was among 50 nutters selected to take part in the World One Day Novel competition. (The entry form was devised by Terry Pratchett which tells you something about the kind of person they wanted.)

I got the letter to say I'd been accepted on my birthday. And panicked. My writing group met and we worked out A Plan, which was basically enlarging a short story I'd just had published. Based on the previous year's submissions I think the word count I was aiming at was 20,000 words but I could type fast in those days. But it obviously meant a lot of fleshing out from 12000 words to 20,000. So I walked round the village, reciting the plot, characters etc as I went (we werent allowed to take any notes in to the competition).

On a practical level, it meant travelling to the Groucho Club in London and doing the competition on a laptop. In those days laptops were like gold dust but thankfully my little brother came to the rescue with one from work. He also put me up for the weekend, dear of him.

So at 10 am that Saturday, 50 of us were poised, ready to start writing. We'd been told that the organisers reserved the right to set a subject at the last minute but thankfully they didn't. I was shaking so much that I didn't think I'd be able to type a word, particularly when the event was being covered by Radio Four and other news channels, so I had a huge fluffy microphone stuck under my nose (to hear my manic tapping of the keys, presumably. Either that or my belaboured, hysterical gasping). When we were given the Off my brain went entirely blank and I hyperventilated.

But eventually I got going – and didn't stop till we had to finish at 10 o'clock that night. We started at 10am again the following day, all of us feeling slightly more at home with what we were doing. Several had even gone off on the piss the night before, or what was left of it.

Being someone who always rushes things, I was the first to finish, some time that Sunday afternoon. Having edited and polished, with the few remaining brain cells left, I then staggered to the bar and got drunk courtesy of the Groucho Club, with various other members.

The experience was decidedly zany. It was terrifying, exhilarating and so unlike anything else that I will never forget it. It would have been great to have more time to meet the other contestants, but as it was I became friends with two journalists from the West Country. I then spent a week with my poor system in overdrive, unable to relax.

Looking back, what did I get out of it? Well, nothing that helped my day to day writing. But I did learn how to think – or write - on my feet. Or is that bum? I could type a lot faster – and more accurately – in those days, which helped a lot. I learnt how to plan and edit according to the time I had (not much). And I learnt how to work under pressure. Apart from all that, it was great fun and if asked, and after a few glasses of wine, I'm sure I'd do it again.

So for all of those you doing NaNo – what do you hope to get out of it?


Kate Harrison said...

That sounds very cool! Maybe we should do a Novel Race one day session at the beginning of the year? At the Festival Hall or something? I bet they'd be up for it....

I started with huge Nano enthusiasm this time, though am heading more for a NoNo! state of mind at the moment. Still, I've managed almost 20K so far. I think it's just a nice extra motivator knowing that others are doing the same, a bit of fun and a feeling of community. I feel with that race that it's not the winning, it's the taking part.

And of course, it's about permission to be cr*p - knowing that the edit will take at least four times as long...

PS: I know I haven't been blogging or posting much lately, but I did just blog today about seeing my first novel republished this week, and why I decided to re-edit it, if anyone is interested.

Kate x

Debs said...

That sounds an incredible, though terrifying experience.

I've just done over 18,000 word on my NaNo story, and need to get started again today, but it will have to wait until a little later as I need more tea first.

I'm doing NaNo as I thought it would be fun to take part, it is, and also would get me writing to a fairly tight deadline, as I'm preparing myself to start a new book very soon. The NaNo one is something I wanted to get out of my head and onto the page before starting the next book.

Rowan Coleman said...

I am not doing nano but the sheer chaotic nature of my life often means i have to get a lot of words down in a short amount of time and what I like is the free fall roller coaster ride of dragging out the words come what may. The editing takes a long time but there is usually ideas, spontaneity and some good stuff in there that I wouldn't get writing at a more measured pace.

ChrisH said...

I'm nowhere near courageous enough to do NaNo, but I've certainly found through my OU work that being tasked to write on particular prompt or to a deadline throughs up some unexpected and often useful results. Your experience sounds terrifying but amazing, Fp!

Leatherdykeuk said...

Fabulous! Go you. "0K in 24 hours is staggering!

I do NaNo every year. It forces me to bang out a new rough draft of a novel which I polish later. I generally complete to 50K with room to spare but keep writing until I hit 100K or so in late December.

Rowan Coleman said...

Chris left you a message re your post on the private place.xx

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an incredible writing experience. Thank you for sharing :)

Kate Lord Brown said...

Wow - I'm tired just reading about it! What an amazing experience ... it's incredible what you can pull out of the bag. I guess that's it with NaNo - you couldn't do it twelve months of the year but it is a good 'sprint' and kick up the backside :)

Annieye said...

Wow, what an experience.

I'm doing NaNo and I'm seriously behind, but hoping to write around 14-16000 words this weekend. I know I can do this because I managed it back in May when I was writing my last novel.

It's all in me - I know what I am going to write and have some handwritten notes, but life has just been so hectic this past two weeks.

I want to get out of NaNo an elaborate plot outline of a book I think warrants around 100-115 words to tell the story properly. I just want something I can work on.

I wanted the companionship of other writers while I'm getting it all down, but I think it's taught me that writing is, and always will be, a private and solitary experience.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Not doing NaNo as I have too much research for other stuff to get done before the end of the year. However I did the scriptwriting version year before last and that enabled me to sketch out notes into narrative that I used this year to write a novel. With the full outline and all the dialogue sorted it took about eight weeks to flesh out.

CC Devine said...

What a wonderful experience! Bet it was a real buzz.

Am not doing NaNo though did think about it but am on the final leg of my complete rewrite and felt that I wanted to get that done and dusted before doing anything else.

I definitely intend to do NaNo next year because it seems, as Leatherdyke says, a great way of getting a good chunk of a rough draft done in a short space of time.

Lorna F said...

I'm full of admiration for everybody who does NaNo - and maybe one year I'll get round to it myself (my fictionfire project has devoured all my attention and energy over the past few months). I do know, though, that deadlines work, especially as writers tend to be world-class at displacement activity! Many years ago, when I won an Ian St James short story award (a competition now defunct, sadly), I carried the entry form around for weeks and weeks - then realised there was very little time left to meet the closing date. Typical of me. I expanded a story I'd written previously, finished it one night, revised it the next, got a friend who was going up to London the following day to deliver it by hand to HarperCollins as that next day was, you guessed it, the deadline! That story earned me £1000, publication in an anthology and my agent! So, come hell or high water, meet those deadlines! Good luck to all Nanowrimoers.

JJ Beattie said...

Awwww, sorry I'm late. We've been without internet since Thursday.

I've just overdosed on blogs so I haven't got anything intelligent to say now... Sorry.

LilyS said...

That sounds like a really cool exam. One I might actually have enjoyed! I'm not doing NaNo but hope to next year. I hope it will get me off to a decent start as I started novel one with the aim to do just 3,000 words for a competition and it just seemed to stop there for a long time.

Liane Spicer said...

I find the mere thought of doing something like this quite terrifying. I ought to do it for this reason alone.

liz fenwick said...

Wow FP that sounds amazing. Love the idea of the NRs doing something.

I decided to nano this year because I knew with my crazy schedule this month it could pass with nothing achieved so i should be happy that I have managed 12,500 but I'm not! In London this week so hopefully I can kncukle down and improve thw word count.

Lane said...

Gawd, that was quite an experience.

I have never NaNoed but admire those who do. Good luck!