Third Times the Charm (Or How I Cheated And Learnt About Myself)

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This year will be the third time I attempt to do NaNoWriMo, and as it draws closer and closer, I’m starting to feel that I should really get some ideas in place before I start. What’s going to happen? Who, at the very least, is my protagonist? …. No idea.

The first time I had a go at this crazy old scheme, where you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November, it was 2005. I was living in a big old student house in the middle of the icy, dangerous outskirts of Durham, with barking Alsatians, a barbed wire fence opposite my bedroom window* and 12-year-olds smoking out of the front door**. I was cheating. By which I mean I was still out to write 50,000 words, but it wasn’t new fiction. It was a novel I was trying to write (and one I still haven’t finished). I’d got about 20,000 words written up. I was using NaNoWriMo to get me further on the same old story. Gasp, that’s breaking the rules, you say. Well, it didn’t work anyway. I ran into a writer’s block, and as the story was precious to me, I couldn’t just bulldoze through it with some new idea / character / plot change like you can in a “proper” NaNoWriMo. So, I think I got about 22,000 new words down and stopped.

I tried again last year. Only this time, I cheated big style. See, I wasn’t really into the idea of writing a whole novel. I wanted to write a long short story or two, so I was using the word count as an impetus to get me tapping away on the keyboard. I actually got a complete short story down, one passage of which you can see here. (I should actually go back to that story and re-write it. It’s been a year now, I’m sure I’ve got fresh ideas for it. Also, there was always a scene missing.) I also decided that any poetry I wrote would be worth a triple word score, like Scrabble. And STILL, with all that cheating, I made it to 35,000 and no further.

Despite this blatant bending of the rules, I don’t regret either decision. Both ways, joining the NaNoWriMo scheme made me write more. When I saw other people from my local area bumping up our collective word score, it gave me a sense of nationalism (Woo! Come on Spain, we can beat Italy!). When I had friends doing it, too, it gave me someone to compete against. But most of all, it got me in front of a computer doing something I love – being creative. And I can look back on the things I wrote in those times and look at them with pride. A lot of it is pretty good, and I like feeling good about achieving something physical.

This year, though, I’m doing it properly. It’s going to be a new story idea, something I come up with hopefully in this week before November 1st. I´m going to try and write 2,000 words a day, because I know there’ll be missed days along there somewhere.

And I’ve got people to compete against and encourage. Some Barcelona teachers, past and present. My boss-and-friend-and-mother-of-my-future-godson, Claire. And quite possibly my twin brother, too. And as we almost never compete, it’ll be quite nice to get some rivalry going.

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Especially as I’m going to win.

* I lived opposite a huge Tescos. the fence around the space where the lorries dropped the goods every morning.

** It was the only place they could hide from security cameras. Also, they climbed up our walls and peered in at the windows.

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