It’s almost April, and that can only mean one thing: #CampNaNoWriMo is coming! Whether you’re attempting it for the first time or the sixth time or not at all, in preparation for next month, I thought I’d dig into my archives and share some lessons learnt from my first experience with the less stressful, more flexible version of National Novel Writing Month.
“Fifty two things,” he says, producing a pack of cards and placing them in my palm. “Tell me fifty two things.”
I curl my fingers around the deck. Whether my hands are cold or whether it is the cards I cannot tell. Turning my head slightly, I look at the boy sitting beside me.
Damaged. Broken. But beautiful.
“Okay,” I say. “Fifty two things I love about you.”
In July 2015, I started writing a romance novel called 52 Things or 52 Things I Love About You, where the whole idea was basically based on playing cards since there are fifty two cards in a standard pack. It was the first time I had attempted to write anything beyond five thousand words (that wasn’t fanfiction) and I actually managed to reach my goal of thirty thousand words in thirty days! I never finished the draft though, and I don’t plan on returning to it ever again, but I definitely learnt some valuable lessons whilst writing it.
1. I AM A PANTSER, NOT A PLOTTER
You can only write so much without an outline before you lose the plot. Literally. I honestly had no idea where 52 Things was heading before I started writing it which gave me zero motivation to continue post-July. I still don’t write detailed outlines for new drafts but I usually know how I want them to end; it’s just figuring out how to get there.
2. CHARACTERS WHO CALL EACH OTHER BY THEIR FULL NAMES ARE NOT COOL (UNLESS YOU’RE JOHN GREEN)
In 52 Things, the love interests are called Scarlett Rose and Elliot King and this is how they both address each other literally as soon as they meet. I honestly hate myself for thinking 1) this was cute and 2) that I was John Green. There are also multiple The Fault In Our Stars references throughout and I don’t even like the book that much?
“Hello, Scarlett Rose,” he replies, closing his book. I manage to take a quick glance at the title – Great Expectations. My favourite. “It’s a pleasure to see you here.”
“Thanks?” I say, taking the book from him. “This is my favourite book!” I exclaim, shoving it in his face. “Wait a minute, did you just stop reading it mid-chapter?”
“Erm…” He raises his eyebrows.
“Elliot King, please tell me you did not stop reading a book mid-chapter!” I realise that I have spoken too loudly, causing a series of hushes to be targeted at me. I lower my voice. “That’s a serious book crime you know,” I add, disappointed.
3. WHITE ISN’T THE DEFAULT
Past me is so guilty of resorting to white as the default. I actually tried to change this when I attempted to rewrite 52 Things after #CampNaNoWriMo, but it honestly felt so forced. When I began making a more conscious effort to read diversely, in the latter half of 2015, it naturally bled into my writing and this is the best thing that could have happened.
4. I’M REALLY FUNNY
He mutters something that I can’t make out. “What are you wearing?”
“My birthday suit,” I joke. But before he can respond, steering the conversation in the wrong direction, I quickly add, “Probably a dress.”
“What kind of dress?”
“Why? Do you want to imagine me in it or something?” I ask.
“Would you rather I imagined you in your birthday suit?”
The thought horrifies me. “No!”
52 Things is full of all the terrible jokes that I like to call flirting. I generally have way too much fun incorporating humour into my stories, and most of the time it’s things that only I would find hilarious.
5. SOMETIMES A BOOK JUST DOESN’T WORK
But that doesn’t mean you can’t write one, or that you never will. As previously mentioned, I tried rewriting 52 Things. Many, many times. I wrote an outline, and even changed the opening. But still, it did not work. And that’s okay. It was my first attempt at writing a book, but it wasn’t my last. I’ve written many drafts since and also given up halfway. But, each time I’m writing, I have more words than I started with and that is a victory in itself.
“I’m not playing this game anymore.” I cross my arms and frown, like a 5 year old.
“You like Disney,” he says, finally taking that right turn.
“I do not like Disney!” I protest.
He takes his eyes off the road for a moment and puts them on me. “You lived in Florida. You have to like Disney.” He says it like it’s a fact.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say. “That’s like saying, if you live in France you have to like croissants.”
I’ll be attempting #CampNaNoWriMo for the sixth time next month! Albeit unofficially. I won’t declare my novel or update my word count every day but I’ll be writing ten thousand words of something I haven’t yet decided on amidst assignments that are due in May.
Share your stories with me! Are you doing #CampNaNoWriMo in April? Are you a pantser, or are you a plotter? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt about writing?