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Diary of a Lunatic (Part 1): guest post by Tiggy Johnson [03.11.2010]


Last year I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time and I’ve signed up again for this year.

In case you don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words towards a new novel during November. Last year I succeeded even though I didn’t finish the actual novel, and never intend to.

I probably shouldn’t be joining in this year but saying ‘no’ isn’t one of my strengths. This year, for example, I already have far too much on, in that:

  • We’ve only just sold our house
  • We’re yet to buy the next one
  • We have leave our old house in little over a month’s time
  • I’m a stay-at-home mum with three kids, with only one of school age, and I get only two days a week to write (without them) at best
  • We’re having a birthday party here for one of the kids
  • I’m launching two books
  • I’m helping out at the local school fair
  • I’m booked to do a featured set at a regular Melbourne poetry gig
  • I have one, possibly two, family birthday commitments (in addition to the one mentioned already)
  • Something unpredictable will happen that saps a heap of my time.

I have no idea if I’ll reach 50,000 words this year, but I don’t care. For one, putting a heap of pressure on myself at the start of the month is totally unnecessary and anyway, if I make it halfway, or even a third of the way, I’m sure I’ll be delighted with my output (the quantity if not the quality). I’m not writing a novel this time. I only have one novel idea bobbing away in my brain, and I’m not keen to hack at it in one month of desperation to just put words on a page. No, this year I want to make NaNoWriMo work for me.

It hasn’t been the most productive writing year. I spent ten weeks of it camping with my family (meaning none of those aforementioned two days to write without kids were available). But it has been a good year for recording ideas.

Last week I made a list of things I’d like to write about during this NaNoWriMo. I was impressed to see that I had ideas for:

  • 5 new short stories
  • 20 non-fiction pieces
  • More poems than I could possibly write in one month, even at one per day.

In anticipation of getting caught up in the moment, as is the key to NaNoWriMo, I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to add to my list. I added the first five ideas from both sites, which included:

  • A wannabe novelist fails at nanowrimo and commits suicide
  • Rocking up to a family reunion in same dress as your mum
  • Modern mermaid – or other – myth
  • ‘We’re probably keeping them to ourselves’
  • Trains grow wings and fly off the tracks to take revenge on cars
  • Acrobatic walruses
  • Love
  • The 1910 Portuguese Revolution
  • Ghosts
  • An irrational fear of stationery.

You might agree that most of these ideas suck. Although only on first impression perhaps, and maybe not in considering that NaNoWriMo is sure to produce a lot of awful writing.

On days when I can’t be bothered writing anything or if I feel like I could barely string a sentence together, that’s the time to choose one of the nonsense ideas (which I’d never have thought to put there myself). As much as I hope to come out of NaNoWriMo with some first drafts that are worthy of redrafting, I don’t expect everything to be of such quality. After hating my novel last year so much that I never want to go back to it, I realised that participating in this crazy quest has a lot more to offer than just the writing anyway.

For one, the online community of NaNo participants and supporters is amazing. On any given day last November, I discovered I could find motivation at the drop of a hat, turning to Twitter for support, maybe even joining someone in a sprint (a race to see who can write the most in a set period, often fifteen minutes or half an hour). Secondly, I got to know more about myself as a writer, including whether I write quickly, how I handle certain pressures and something about my ability to stay focused when everything seems to have gone wrong.

Last week on my blog I suggested I had only one tip for participants, which was to start strong. Staying on top of the daily word count (1667 words) means flying on the high your support crew will offer. But there are other tips. It seems obvious at this point to suggest being open minded about things not going the way you may have anticipated, so consider that a tip. Also, choose an album you like to be your NaNoWriMo album. While I was camping, I listened to the same CD over and over (because I was crazy enough to not have recorded more on my phone in advance) and found that, rather than each song annoying me on the hundredth play, I found inspiration for different stories in each of them, or that they made me feel a certain way. Even if your music doesn’t spark ideas, hearing it every time you sit down to write might help you ease into ‘the zone’.

Before I sign off, having reached the daily word count (including a poem I wrote this afternoon), I also have a tip for those of you not participating, but who know someone who is. Please be extra patient with your lunatic friend/partner/other acquaintance this month. They are so focussed on achieving this crazy goal that they cannot think rationally or even answer simple questions at times. What they need is for you to be kind, speak in a gentle voice and perhaps even say something encouraging. Making them a cup of coffee (or a meal) probably wouldn’t go astray either.

Good luck!

Tiggy Johnson is the kind of lunatic that just has to do NaNoWriMo regardless of how many other things she has on. She also blogs at http://tiggyjohnson.blogspot.com/ and is the editor of page seventeen.

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