It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that any middle-class person must want to write a novel. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where an estimated 400,000 writers across the globe are trying to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days.
Writers argue whether the focus on word count over content is a licence to write drivel. But one of NaNoWriMo’s founders, Chris Braty, argues that:
“The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen every time.”
This year, I’ve taken the NaNoWriMo challenge, and it is going splendidly badly. But the reason it is going at all is because on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons in the Pret on Hanover Square, the NaNo writers gather. The rules are simple. Each hour starts with 15 minutes of social time, where coffees are bought and tales of woe exchanged. And then there is 45 minutes of silent writing. At home the temptation to faff and watch Netflix is strong. But when all around you are typing fiercely, one feels obliged to at least try to write.
I was late for my first NaNoWriMo writing session. A nice girl called Jane let me sit at her table, she explained the gig and then we wrote silently together, her in a tidy longhand in a notebook, me scruffily on an iPad. Encouraged by the soft tapping of computer keys, I wrote my first scene. Exhausted by my genius I glanced at the word count. 300 poxy words. I tried again. Synapses crackled as the main character had a major life-changing event. 200 words. Honestly, I’ve had gym classes that were less painful.
Jane sympathized. She was struggling less, but was still struggling. We chatted about our different novels – hers had vampires, mine a mid-life crisis. We admired each other’s brilliance, and suitably buoyed we wrote again. Over 800 words fell out of my fingertips and I was in ecstasies. 1300 words in an evening. Jane’s experience was similar and we congratulated each other during social time. A bearded man pronounced he had produced 7000 words that day, and was rewarded with a high five from one of the NaNoWriMo leaders, who then dutifully high fived me and Jane.
During these writing sessions, I’ve met all sorts of people. One works in IT and is writing up his Dungeon and Dragons adventure (“It’s easier to write when they are fighting each other,” he said). Another is writing a trilogy which she has been living with for ten years. I moaned that I was temporarily dairy-free and couldn’t write without milky tea. “Try soya milk, or perhaps goat,” said one of the leaders. Truly, the answer to all writing questions was here.
My mum told me that nobody makes a greater mistake than doing nothing because they can’t deliver perfection. She taught me the value of an end-to-end text, because you can always make SOMETHING better. The word count motivates some and terrifies others, but it is a distraction really. The point of NaNoWriMo is to force you to sit down, get your finger out and actually write SOMETHING everyday. In company! NaNoWriMo is a stupid name, but it has given me the kick up the proverbial I needed to start a story I want to finish, and I’ve already learned a lot for the next time I write a novel. And there’s still time to join in.
Sign up to NaNoWriMo on the website: https://nanowrimo.org, where you can register as a London resident. There are a list of events under the regions (Europe: England: London). If you look me up, I’m cherub42.
Chris Baty’s book, “No Plot, No Problem,” is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Plot-Problem-Low-Stress-High-Velocity/dp/1452124779/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510011741&sr=1-1&keywords=chris+baty).
The Pret a Manger on Hanover Square is enormous and serves hot chocolate with coconut milk for the lactose intolerant writer who can’t quite bear goat milk in tea (https://www.pret.co.uk/en-gb/find-a-pret/w1s%201hn).