Procrastination, Research Holes and A Novel in a Month

Throughout November, like a great many other people, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. The challenge, to belt out 50,000 words of novel in the space of just 30 days.

Now, I’ve just this second seen a retweet from the NaNo Twitter account, which reads thus;

My first thought was, why would an English teacher be confused that anybody wants to write a novel? I can’t quite reach my head around the idea that somebody teaching English – or any educator, for that matter – would have a problem understanding the concept behind wanting to create something, and wanting to do that creating as part of a challenge. Particularly when, as an English teacher, he or she should be completely used to the idea of setting deadlines for writing assignments. Which is pretty much what this is, just on a much larger scale.

One thing I will say about this is that it will take over your life. Once you’re in the flow of writing, you’ll find yourself writing beyond your daily target. You’ll have ideas about plot and dialogue when you’re doing the shopping and stand completely in the way of everybody else whilst you frantically try to make a note on your phone before the thoughts become lost in the expanses of your imagination. You’ll keep a notebook beside you at work, jotting down a sentence here and there, and suddenly you’ve got a whole chapter ready to type up. Four days in, and I’m keeping a notebook, a calendar and three separate copies of my written novel (master, cloud stored, external backup drive – baby, I’ve had too many data loss incidents to take any chances). You will go slightly mad, and you’ll love every second of it. Probably.

Why do it, though? I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, belting out this novel in such a short space of time is the best possible idea. It’s my first attempt at a novel, and it’s something I have been researching and planning for months. Being the master procrastinator that I am, I could easily spend the next year or more continuing to research and plan, and never actually get around to writing the damn thing. Getting a first draft out in a month, however rough, will tell me whether or not the story is going to end up viable, or even interesting, without spending a tonne of time on it. It’s the perfect opportunity to do something fast and dirty, without worrying about ladles of research, without worrying about what other people will think. I’m just getting that story out, I can worry about editing it later.

I will say that since my plot is concerned with some key historical points, I’m making the odd sidenote to research a particular point later, and check for historical accuracy. But beyond that, I’m just writing, and it’s incredibly freeing to do that without worrying whether Brylcreem was available in 1948 (turns out it was) or whether my main character is dressed correctly. For an undertaking that might usually take a year or more to complete, there really does have to be a lot of elements removed. Research and editing as you go, have to go. Once you’ve reached that 50,000th word (or, conceivably, more – I’m presently 8000 words in, I don’t think I’ve written any filler but I’m not going back to check yet, and I’m nowhere close to the juiciest parts yet), then is the time to freak out about piffling little points like that gaping plot hole and the fact that you have no idea if your characters should be drinking quite so much tea.

Until then, the point of it (for me anyway) is the complete freedom to write what will hopefully turn out to be a novel. In a timeframe which won’t make me cry if it’s actually a lengthy bag of nonsense and boredom.