Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The best decision I ever made.

Well, okay, I can't remember every decision I've ever made, but if it wasn't the best it was close.

What decision, Rik?! I hear you indignantly cry. Stop clarifying and write your damn blog post!

You people spoil all the fun.

The decision I'm talking about is the one I made to participate in NaNoWriMo 2010 last year. As I'm about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of that decision (and everything that came with it) by repeating the process, I thought it might be a good time to look back.

To recap, then. It's mid-October 2010. I'm just over a year into my PhD and starting to realise that it's pointless and tedious (that's another blog post, one so unbearably wangsty I'll probably spare you altogether). It's two months since I almost quit my band. My webcomic is sliding slowly back towards hiatus. My personal life is a mess (although, arguably, no worse than normal). I've just gone back to work - I work term-time only for universities - and am busy as all hell.

A niggling idea for a novel about the Lady Gaga phenomenon plants itself in my brain after a lecture I attended which included a screening of the 'Alejandro' and 'Bad Romance' videos. And I think, 'Hey, NaNoWriMo is next month.'

Oh, what the hell, go on then, I'll give it a go. I need to shake things up a bit.

I signed up for NaNo and my local regional chapter, and joined Twitter to keep track of things. I went to an introductory meet (and probably made a bit of an ass of myself - fewer of those present were nerds than I was expecting). Then, Monday November 1st rolled round. I started writing, just a couple of hundred words, over breakfast, to make sure I didn't bottle out of starting.

Monday was a busy day; I was out of the house at half eight to go to work at one job, then back for a quick lunch before dashing out for the three-mile walk to the other job. Then I went and grabbed a couple of hours in the university library, ploughing through the opening scenes of 'Bad Romance', before going to the kick-off party, where I did hardly any writing but did meet a bunch of cool folks.

The best moment of the kick-off party was when one of my then-still-fairly-new housemates who I didn't know very well walked in and we spent an awkward ten minutes explaining how it was that we'd managed to live in the same building without knowing each other had signed up.

By the end of Monday, I was a little ahead of target, on around 2,500 words. So far so good, I thought.

Tuesday, I had the day off. To my surprise, I spent the entire day writing and finished up on around 8,000 words. Looking back, the bug had already bitten, I just hadn't realised. Wednesday went similarly after I got out of work at lunchtime. I think I was somewhere around 15,000 by Thursday, the day of the second write-in.

Thursday I worked all day, with barely ten minutes for writing at lunchtime. Then I went to the meet and met (dun-dun-dun) my nemesis. Sometime during Wednesday, I'd started pacing myself by a user on the Liverpool forum who had always been just slightly ahead of me. This person was at the write-in, at which she managed to write about three times as much as me (I got too distracted talking to people), but let's just say there was some smack-talking, everlasting enmity was declared, and on Friday we went mad.

Friday, again, I wasn't working. My nemesis was, but she still stayed well ahead. Still, by the end of the day we were both closing on the half-way mark. I don't really remember the weekend, except that I'm sure I spent Saturday at band practice and barely managed the basic 1,667 words. Somehow, though, we were both past the 40,000-word mark by Monday. I was a few thousand behind.

Monday, of course, was mental. I squeezed in all the writing I could and skipped the write-in so that I actually got some writing in that evening. Still, as the evening wore on, I remained 4,000 words adrift as my nemesis powered towards 50,000.

But time was on my side. I didn't work Tuesdays. My nemesis did. She called it a night, reluctantly, finally, at about 10PM. On only 48,000 words.

I was at 44,000. 6k to go. No need to get up the following morning. I made a quick supply run (energy drinks, biscuits, high-octane candy and some fresh orange juice - which, and I can't stress this enough, is the most essential component of any all-nighter supplies) and settled in.

And I wrote until 4AM, when I crossed the 50k mark. I was unfortunately soundly asleep by the time my nemesis woke up at around 5 to a message from me. I'll admit to a little gloating (only a little, mind - I knew she'd only respond by telling me she let me win).

Start-to-finish, I reached 50k in under 192 hours (8 days). I was the 3rd person in the Liverpool region to finish (we have a couple of those irritating finish-in-two-days *&%@ers or I'd have been first ;D). I was in love.

No, not like that. With writing, doofus. The story of my nemesis and I came to a rather less satisfactory ending, one that I wouldn't share with a public blog (hence the withholding of her name).

The point is this; I've always told stories. Since my early teens, I've always been writing some project or other, be it novels, screenplays or webcomics. But university life hadn't left me enough time to practice writing except for the merciless demands of that damned webcomic, which by late 2010 was on its last legs.

NaNo gave me eight days of the most intense writerly experience of my life, and I loved it. My NaNo didn't actually finish that Tuesday - 'Bad Romance' eventually topped out at about 67,000 words, and I kept up the 1,700-a-day until I reached that point, and even after that I kept going to meets and things - but it was those eight days that told me what I wanted to do with my life.

The results one year on are dramatic; I don't just mean that I'm now a published author, either. I finally left the band for good last month (I'm going to their first gig without me on Thursday, and looking forward to it now that I'm free of the stress of playing). I killed the webcomic for good back in July. I couldn't get rid of the PhD that easily - the best way to get free of it is just to push ahead and finish as quickly as possible - but I'm more or less up to the half-way point of the work, and hoping to do most of the rest in the oncoming year. I've even more or less sorted out my personal life.

Most importantly, I know where I'm going. I've found what I want to do with my life. I think that's something that's even more important for writers than it is for 'normal people' (;D). Writing is my life now, and everything else (even my music) is secondary. My every effort is directed towards freeing myself from day-jobs and similar obligations.

I haven't even gotten started on how good my experience of my first year on Twitter has been (another massive debt I owe to NaNo), but this post is starting to get a bit long, so I'll wrap it up now.

So, thank you, NaNoWriMo. Thank you, Chris Baty and Lindsay Grant. Thank you, Liverpool regional chapter.

Bring on November!


  1. OMG! This could be my story---except I am a girl and I finished my doctorate in 09. NaNo changed my life, too. I've spent the past year writing and publishing. I am hoping to sell enough to pay my rent!! Let's be writing buddies on NaNo. I am kathleea.

  2. Hi Kathleen. I look forward to NaNoing with you (if the website ever gets buddies working again... ;D)

  3. That is a great story! I have never had a word count race before - and I don't know if I am ready to succumb to that sort of pressure. But that is quite a feat you accomplished. My username on NaNo is 'hellocheney' if you would like to chat on it next month!