November 29, 2010

Finishing my first National Novel Writing Month

Today I finished my first National Novel Writing Month, in which you begin a novel from scratch and have one month to complete a first draft of 50,000 words.

I finished today, one day before the November 30 deadline, with 50,124 words. Titled From My Mother, my novel is about a female ultrarunner pondering the many questions she has about her beloved but mysterious grandmother as she starts her longest race yet during which she finds answers in unexpected places.

It's been a great experience, well outside my comfort zone since most of what I have written so far is non-fiction, and some poetry. I don't know if these 50,124 words will ever go beyond the first draft but even if they don't, it's been well worth it.

Another challenge I took on this month as running a 100km road race and that is the topic of a book I've been working on. As of tomorow I will focus on completing this non-fiction book, my fourth, titled Hundred Reasons to Run 100km.

I began writing these reasons before the race because I expected that the question, Why Am I Doing This? might pop into my mind at least once during the 100km Haney to Harrison. I wanted to make sure I had a few good answers that would help me stay motivated in this ultra challenge.

In the lead-up to the race I filled more than 80 pages, one reason on each, to run 100km. And perhaps as a result of that I did not wonder once during the race why I was challenging my mind and body to cover such a large distance on foot.

I have begun revising and rewriting this first draft. My partner Tim, a longtime professional journalist and editor who has been the most important sounding board in my four published books so far, has  also read that first draft and provided feedback.

Having just finished NaNoWriMo earlier today, after a week of monster writing days to make up for falling behind in the third week, it's too soon for me to fully appreciate all the benefits and lessons from writing my first draft for a novel (I've written very little to no fiction besides my start on the Ironwoman novel).

What attracted me to the NaNoWriMo concept is that nothing makes you write more than an (self-)imposed daily word count. It's the same concept I recommend, through 33 exercises, in my third book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing, for which I wrote the first draft in eight straight days. (I spent another four months rewriting and revising it almost a year later before publishing it in May this year).

My schedule this month was as usual, though waking a little earlier, as early as 5am, and writing fiction. I always head straight for the kettle to prepare my favourite coffee: four large spoons of President's Choice Hazelnut Cream made in the Bodum coffee press.   

In the mean time I am starting up my netbook, which I use as my main computer, that is hooked up to an 18-inch ViewSonic screen and then quickly check my emails and online book sales.

With the coffee ready, a mug and some milk, I sit at my desk, as always chaotically covered with all kinds of stuff, and begin writing. My routine will be the same tomorrow but I'll get back to working on non-fiction. 

Some initial thoughs about NaNoWriMo:

1. It's possible to write 50,000 words in a month;
2. Word count is a powerful motivator (as I already knew from writing my non-fiction books but the superb NaNoWriMo screen with the statistics to follow your progress is just fantastic and I updated it every few paragraphs);
3. Having one or more NaNoWriMo writing buddies is superbly motivating, too;
4. The emailed pep-talks we received from the various NaNoWriMo people I've filed away for future reference and inspiration;
5. I highly recommend anyone who has ever considered writing a book of fiction to join NaNoWriMo next November. It's worth the effort.

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