NaNoWriMo is approaching fast, and even if you aren’t taking part, you can probably expect frenzied social media updates from your friends and contacts who are taking on the challenge this year.
If you need some help making sense of it all, I like to think of it as a lot like the plot of The Lord of the Rings. And not just because I’ve been told I need to take a break from comparing EVERYTHING to Harry Potter. Here’s my reasoning:
The aspiring novelist begins, wide eyed and innocent, in a blissful place with no deadlines, no demands and no pressure, only hopes and aspirations for the future. A bit like a naive hobbit in the Shire.
Then comes the new information to send our novelist hobbit on an adventure. A wizened old writer shows up with news of NaNoWriMo.
Writing an entire novel in a month? Sounds like a step closer towards the writing dream! The challenge is laid down, and the novelist hobbit, still optimistic and confident, accepts it, setting out on the quest.
But this is just the beginning. There’s prep work to be done, characters to plan, plot points to scribble down. And by mid October we’re all feeling a bit like we did when Frodo reached Rivendell – we’ve invested a lot of time and there’s still no sign of the Fellowship.
November comes around at last. This is what the novelist hobbit has been waiting and preparing for. Time to set out!
But much like Pippin, who in the books essentially asks ‘are we nearly there yet?’ before the Fellowship have even reached Moria, you soon realise this is not going to be a quick sprint or an easy challenge. The wordcount targets are significant, if you want to write 50-80,000 words in 30 days.
And it’s not just hard work and fatigue that our novelist hobbit has to battle. Enemies to the creative process will spring up on all sides. Enemies like self-doubt (that last chapter was rubbish), forgetfulness (wait, where was the plot going next?), comparison (people I follow on Twitter are meeting all their targets and I only wrote 100 words today!) and… Uruk-Hai. Because sometimes Uruk-Hai are easier to fight than the critical voice in your head.
There are glorious moments of superb creativity, when you stand on the mountaintop of penmanship and gaze at the incredible world you’ve crafted.
And there are times when you feel like you’re sinking into a marsh of cliches and two dimensional characters.
The novelist hobbit falls into the trap of thinking he or she can do this alone, pushing away loyal friends who only want to say supportive things like ‘you can do this’ and ‘maybe you should eat something today’.
Writing a climax to the novel is always tricky. How dramatic is TOO dramatic? Are the stakes high enough?
But then, as volcanoes disintegrate and orcs are vanquished, the novelist hobbit reaches the end of the quest. On 30th November, the first draft is complete!
Time to celebrate! Time to cheer! Time to rest!
And now time to get back to work. Because, like the long journey home from Mordor, there’s a lot of editing, proofreading and feedback-seeking to be done now to turn this draft into a masterpiece.
So there you have it – the epic quest to write a novel in 30 days. If you’re taking part this year, good luck!