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10 things I learned writing 50,000 words in 30 days

Long time, no blog – sorry, everyone! I assure you I have a legitimate excuse, and it’s this:

All my ‘spare writing time’ has been taken up writing a 50,000-word novel in the space of a single month.

That means a month of planning and getting my head around a brand new story for most of October, and then writing an average of 1,667 words every day in November. And that’s not including the words I write for my day job.

For those who aren’t aware, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, happens every year, and it exists purely as a challenge for writers. If you write 50,000 words of a novel in that month, you’re a winner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written something awful, or if you haven’t finished your story, or even if it’s not a novel – the point is that you’ve written something.

This year, for the very first time, I won. On the 1st November I began writing my novel – a young adult, coming-of-age tale about a directionless nineteen year old boy joining a band – and by the 30th, I had written a clean 50,127 words. I have never been more proud of myself.

It’s been a difficult and tiring month, but it’s also been fantastic, and I’ve learned an awful lot. Here are ten of those things I’ve learned.

1. Writing is wonderful.

By far, the most important thing that this month has done is to remind me why I love writing. Because I do love writing. The thrill of watching a story come to life, helping my beloved characters navigate their world, picking the right words and phrases to get across the right feeling – when you’re a writer, nothing can match it.

2. Writing is bloody difficult.

I already knew this one, though I didn’t know quite how difficult it would be to write a complete novel. I’ll be honest: I’ve begun more novels than I can count, but this is the first time I’ve seen a first draft right through to its epilogue. And boy, it was hard. There were scenes that have no logical ending and important bits of information that I had no clue how to convey. On top of all that, there was also the challenge of squeezing out a thousand and a half words of this same story every single day. It’s not easy.

3. 50,000 is a lot of words.

Short novels, including those in the young adult genre, can be a minimum of about 40,000 words. 50,000 is literally the length of a novel – and there’s a reason why writing it in a month is considered such a challenge. Spread out across five different Google Docs, I’ve got an entire (though patchy) young adult novel from beginning to end that spans six months of the protagonist’s life. There’s a lot going on there.

4. 50,000 words is hardly anything.

I reached 50,000 words… and no way is my novel finished. There are incomplete scenes and huge narrative gaps that need filling up. And then there are the things I haven’t even begun to include. I know every tiny detail of my characters lives – I can tell you what they were like in school, what they eat for breakfast, their most far-flung daydreams and fantasies – but barely any of that makes it into the story. I only have 50,000 words, after all.

5. The more often you write, the easier it gets.

One piece of advice that professional writers give is always to write something every day. This month’s experience has driven home just how good that advice is. The first week or so of NaNoWriMo was the hardest, purely because I wasn’t used to writing 1,667 words of a novel every day. After that, however, things got easier. I settled into a routine and before long I was spouting two or three thousand words on a Saturday with hardly a second thought. Let’s just hope I can keep that up in the future.

6. The key to beating writer’s block is careful planning and skipping over the tricky scenes.

Writer’s block hits everyone differently, so this lesson is in no way universal, but it’s certainly what worked for me. Not being allowed to start writing in October (however much I desperately wanted to) forced me to over-plan, jotting down the order of nearly every scene or narrative bump in the story. When I got to writing it, this turned out to be invaluable. Stuck on where a scene should go? No matter. Put down a ‘PLEASE FINISH’ in square brackets and move on to the next one. Don’t dwell. Keep it moving. Keep writing.

7. Support is everything.

There’s a reason why I could write 50,000 words in November but hardly even one thousand every other month of the year. NaNoWriMo offers a unique and brilliant portal to thousands of people who are in the exact same boat as you. There are concrete goals, stats to follow, and a huge array of forums to talk about what your novels are doing. All in all, the support does wonders for motivation.

8. There are a lot of flavours of gin out there.

Don’t worry, I learned this through doing research for a gin-loving character, not through looking to drown my sorrows (yet). Research is everything!

9. Your characters’ world is, unfortunately, your world.

For better or worse, absorbing yourself in a novel means taking on your characters’ world and getting right inside their heads. You get to learn all kinds of details about them, and think carefully about what their next move is and why. It makes for good writing but it can get a little… intense. On the one hand it got the cogs turning in my head all day every day, making it easier when I sat down to write something. On the other hand, I felt absolutely miserable every time my protagonist was going through a rough patch. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

10. It’s never over.

50,000 words certainly isn’t enough. But even when I’ve finished those awkward scenes, added in the extra ones, and filled out all the gaps, I’ll still have several more months of work to do. I need to shuffle the story around, proofread it, re-write about half my words, and generally edit the heck out of it. The writing process is never truly over.

If you’ve ever fancied writing a novel, regardless of how good your writing skills are, I urge you to try NaNoWriMo next year. You’ll learn more things than you can imagine and you’ll come out of it with a decent chunk of a novel written. I promise it’s worth the pain.

Feel free to add me as a buddy if you have a NaNoWriMo account! And stay tuned on Just Another Magic Monday, as I’m hoping to blog a bit more about my writing process in the future.