Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How (not to) write a novel in a month

How (not to) write a novel in a month (Part One)

For anyone who missed my earlier post in a moment of insanity I signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo. In short I have 30 days to write a novel. 50,000 words. The first few weeks of October 2007 may not go down in my history as a time when I demonstrated brilliant common sense but some times common sense is overated. Whether I will say that in a few weeks remains to be seen.

But for now, welcome to NaNo, where I'm aiming to keep some sort of Writer's Diary both for my own interest and, maybe, to see where it all goes wrong...

So how should I begin? Should I stand up in the circle? Well, my name is Corinne, my novel is (currently) called Ilyria and it's about a touring theatre company who are putting on a production of - as its title might suggest - Twelfth Night. The novel - like Mrs Dalloway! And Saturday! And Ulysses! - is set on a single day; in this case the day of the final performance. Obviously since the age of 18 I have spent possibly too much time in theatres in a variety of guises and I have worked for a touring Shakespeare company so obviously it has no connection to reality whatsoever.

To set the scene I had allowed myself one day of research prior to NaNo starting. This research had consisted of:

1) Re-reading Twelfth Night.

2) Reading some criticism on Twelfth Night because though I will inevitably end up writing something approaching Chick-Lit I might as well get my literary pretensions out of the way and have a look at themes and whatnot that I might want to pretend I'm touching on.

3) Deciding the names (and roles) of all of the characters who are part of the theatre company.

4) Deciding where my opening chapter was going to be set.

Oh, and since I should probably be honest:

5) Pulling out my copy of On Beauty to see how Zadie Smith opens her chapters because the thought of a third person narrator scares me.

And that was pretty much it. No chapter plans, no character biographies, not even any idea of where I might ultimately be going with this novel. It struck me even then that November was going to be a long month.


Day One:

Get in just before Midnight after having seen and adored the RSC's production of The Comedy of Errors so am still up when NaNoWriMo begins. Briefly consider starting a new document on George in honour of this. However, I have had vodka and theatre so I am lazy and the idea is as far as it gets. Eventually go to bed.

Plod around, get rid of a couple of jobs that need doing, visit Facebook, check my email, have lunch, watch Neighbours, speak to Dean about his Cleaner for an hour. Start writing at 4.00pm after deciding that McFly are not perfect writing companions at this stage. Settle instead for an old Rufus Wainwright album.

Open word document. Write my name, the date and 'Draft One'. Put what I think might be the title. Click 'Page Break'.

Stare at blank screen. Type four words. Delete four words. Type another word. Delete it. Wonder if I am to fail NaNo without managing to write a single word. To calm myself go back to opening page and add dedication and epigraph.

After ten minutes finally get my opening image. Write sentence. Check word count. Thirteen words. Only 49,987 to go.

Keep writing. Keep checking word count approximately every 60 seconds. Discover that this does not magically increase the number of words on the page. Make a mental note to do a bit of reading on Art history when it becomes apparent in the first paragraph that one of my main characters has decided that she is cultured and therefore makes allusions to art. Want to poke her in the eye a bit for making me research when I'm already reading lots of War Poetry on account of another character's predilictions.

Realise at 5.30pm that I can quite comfortably, even with a margin of inner-Editor pernickityness, write 400 words an hour. Calculate that I therefore need to write for - on average - 4 hours 15 minutes a day. Every day for the next 30 days. Decide that it is both too early and slightly wrong for me to be drinking vodka on my own as a result of this.

Have a 45 minute break for dinner. Ponder the local Newsreader's increasingly orange skin.

Return to laptop. At 1,100 words - with the second Dawson's Creek album playing on iTunes - have thirty minutes where I struggle to string two words together. Remain unsure whether this is Dawson's Creek's fault or not.

Have, hopefully the first of many, minor breakthroughs. Power on and finish word quota by 8.30pm. Change title of novel to Ilyria. Eat a M&S chocolate as a reward.

Word Count at Start of Day: 0

Word Count at End of Day: 1852


Day Two:

First day of the process with the added challenge of actually completing a ten hour plus shift. Hmmm. No problem.

Indulge in general faffing (including being a nice neighbour and taking in parcels for those who are not home at such strange morning hours) and somehow manage not to write a single word before I go to work. Am not sure how well this bodes.

Decide on a plan of action of keeping my NaNo file open on my work computer at all times for the possibility of adding even a single word (for they all count) at any odd moment. Even amongst the gamut of jobs such as photocopying and franking mail (it doesn't cease to amuse me that I spend a chunk of my non-show working time doing the kind of admin that I took this job to avoid) I manage some wordage. Still checking word count in a vaguely obsessive compulsive manner though.

Deal with two shows, an actor in a kilt, three trays of ice creams, 150 programmes, 700 audience members, 15 latecomers, a show that runs 25 minutes later than advertised and some big red buckets (not, admittedly, all on my own because that would be silly). Some of Kneehigh's actor/musicians request that they be allowed to play in the bar after the show. I am Nice Duty Manager (even though a floppy haired actor has claimed that I am a Mean DM because I regularly chuck actors out of the bar) and say that would be wonderful. All my work done, and to the strains of an accordian, I get a chunk of writing done and get to go home smug

Word Count at Start of Day: 1,852

Word Count at End of Day: 3,255


Day Three:

After the somewhat unexpected success of yesterday I decide to try another experiment in the knowledge that there is no such thing as a spare moment during a Saturday evening shift. I have always considered myself to be a late afternoon/ evening writer. It was one of the reasons that I bonded a bit with Libby Purves for she said that she is jealous of writers who get up at 5.00am and have all their writing for the day done by 9.00am, whereas she gets up about 9.00 am and spends the next hour trying to find something clean to wear. I may always have clean clothes (I have a lot of clothes and could probably get away with not washing for rather a long time before it became a problem) but I do tend to spend my mornings faffing. I suspect this is something that has been honed by spending the last two years working evenings, though it was always there before - I vividly remember the August/ September where I'd watch reality television streaming in the morning [It was allowed! I was ill!] and wrote Some Sort of Beautiful in the afternoon.

So today I put this theory to the test and start writing at 11.00am. I know this is not exactly 5.00am but this is something of a leap for me, especially since I didn't get in from work until 12.30am [and then faffed about for an hour trying to work out if I should eat or not]. It is with something approaching extreme joy that I discover that I actually can write, managing a thousand words before I have to go to work.

By the time I am covering reception's break at 5.30pm I have almost written today's word quota. This shocks me somewhat. So much so that when some of the attendants who are doing a double shift come to talk to me I share what I am doing. Am pleased (and resolve not to make them empty the bins) as they all seem to think it is a good idea and wish to read the novel when it is finished (I um and er a bit about this, because, let me be honest, quality control is not exactly at its highest on my lovely Ilyria.)

This is, predictably, the peak of my smugness. I don't manage a single other word for the rest of the night as the shift turns into one of those that I file away with those I would quite like to be able to forget. Predictably everything takes longer than it should, I have to do two cash ups because the first one goes wrong and, just as the bar is calling last orders, I realise that I still have an hour's work to do. There aren't even any accordian players tonight.

Word Count at Start of Day: 3,255

Word Count at End of Day: 4,873

To Be Continued...

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