May 17, 2011

My first (attempt at a) novel

My first novel
I'm a strong believer in continuous education, learning new skills by challenging yourself to try something you haven't done before without concern about judgement.

Often it's fear about what other people might think that keeps us from pursuing new goals. If you worry about this, there's a Dutch saying "De beste stuurlui staan aan wal" which loosely translates as "The best captains remain on shore".

As the author of four non-fiction books, and a longtime professional journalist (I reported for Bloomberg News from Brussels, Toronto and Sydney on business and finance), writing fiction is something I have little experience with.

But I'm keen to learn. That's why in November last year I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge open to anyone.

The goal is to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in one month. No more, no less. Victory is determined only by whether you succeed in producing this amount of words, which works out to 1,667 words a day.

There are no referees, no one checking that you do your daily writing. It's up to you to make that happen. The great thing about it is that you have an online account where you can track your progress by updating the word count every time you write.

This simple tool was crucial to me, as it's a straightforward measure that allows you to see whether you're on track to succeed in producing 50,000 words in a month. At the end of the month, you submit your manuscript online which is then checked for word count - if you made the goal, you're officially a NaNoWriMo Winner.

It doesn't mean you will have a bestseller, it only means that you will likely have written more, a lot more, than you otherwise would have during that month and that you have a first draft of a story that you can improve upon. Writing is rewriting, it's a process.

NaNoWriMo 2010 was the perfect motivation to try and, no doubt, make tons of mistakes. That's why I decided to take advantage of one of the NaNoWriMo Winner's Goodies, creating and ordering a free paperback proof copy of this manuscript.

I cleaned up my first draft of From My Mother a little (visually mostly) and designed a cover. This will a. give me a record of my first attempt at writing a fiction book and b. perhaps motivate me to make the (many) revisions needed to improve this very rough first draft but mostly c. inspire me to try again, applying the lessons I learned by simply trying.

It's no coincidence that the novel is about an ultrarunner's 100km race, as I tried running this distance for the first time during that same month of the NaNoWriMo challenge, as I also describe in my latest book A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km.

We need to start somewhere, and work at getting better at it, if that's our goal. I'm not sure if From My Mother ever will see the light of day, other than in my personal proof copy. But, just like my quest for the sub-3-hour marathon, I have absolutely no doubt that one day I will write and publish a decent novel. You just have to work at it, and enjoy the process.

I can't wait to hold the paperback of my first attempt at a novel and plan to keep it on my desk as a reminder to take the plunge into fiction.

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