Progress on novel 3 goes slowly, combined with checking the proofs of Cold Light and planning a series of poetry workshops. And I’ve been reading! Joyce Carol Oates: My Sister, My Love (so far I am kind of agreeing with the New York Times review of it, but I’m persevering) and Sarah Hymas: Host and Emma Donoghue: The Room.

I think my problem with novel 3 is that I’ve been editing Cold Light at the same time as trying to write it. It’s too easy to look at my polished, finished Cold Light pages and all the other good books I’ve been reading and expect that my first couple of chapters of Number Three should look like that too. It is also easy to forget the three years and countless drafts, deletions, additions, rephrases, temper tantrums, weeks off and informed advice from two editors and my writing group. Of course Cold Light is better.

I’ve been going slow because I’ve been trying to write final draft, first time. I know this is a problem for lots of writers. Perfectionism is okay but not for first drafts. It’s something I try to address in all of my workshops – setting timed writing exercises, telling the participants it is okay to write rubbish, it’s only fifteen minutes, the important thing is to get the page dirty and we can sort out the mess later. That’s not the way to write a perfect poem, or story, or novel, or a perfect anything at all. But it is one of the perfect ways to make a start. To get over yourself and get on with it.

Which is one way of justifying me signing up for NaNoWriMo this year. November. 50,000 words. I am not so concerned about getting 50,000 words down and I know, with mothering being the way it is at the moment, it might not be possible for me. But I want to devote November to getting down as much of a first draft as I have.

I know lots of proper writers get sniffy about NaNoWriMo. ‘That’s not the way to write a real novel.’ Well no, it isn’t. The proper way to write a novel is to get the page dirty, give yourself thousands of words, and then edit them until your eyes bleed. One of my main tasks as a teacher is to convince new writers that first drafts aren’t writing: editing is writing. I know this. But my fast-typing muscles need a kick up the bum. Perhaps NaNoWriMo during November is just what’s needed.

For the daily dose of plugs,you could check out a really nice review of A Kind of Intimacy over at A Work in Progress. For a double dose, Jess Haigh has included it as one of her three favourite Scary Books at For Books’ Sake.

I have also been updating my links. I meant to import my best links from my old blogger blog over here but it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped and it’s taken me this long to sort it out. Click through to have a look at what I’m reading blog-wise these days. Recommendations are always welcome. 

8 responses to “NaNoWriMo”

  1. Megan says:

    Oh, you cannot say anything bad about ms Oates, she’s a force of nature. Also, just finished Room too, loved it very much.
    Good luck with new novel, however it gets written, though dirty and fast sounds like a lot of fun (-: perhaps I’ll try that with no.4

  2. Paul says:

    I’ve never been able to understand the fascination with/worth of NaNoWriMo. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I agree that writing is rewriting, but I would rather rewrite something that had a more considered and careful genesis than something that was slapped together in a rush toward an arbitrary word count and seems more like stunt than craft.

    Curmudgeonly thoughts aside, I respect the motivation it must take to embark on this kind of effort, and I see how it can create community. And since we all work differently, I’m willing to grant that maybe I’m the outlier and that it is a technique that others find useful in some way.

  3. Jenn says:


    I don’t think you’re alone – I know a lot of people would rather write slowly and carefully and find that works best for them. And yes, it is more of a stunt than craft – of course. I think the reason why I’m attracted to it (and maybe why other ‘serious’* writers I know are giving it a go) is because it can free you from the paralysis-like effects of your inner editor chunnering, and for some (like me) arbitrary word counts and deadlines can be really motivating.

    Horses for courses. Although when I’m teaching I always advise students who are examining their process to try things the other way round. Try typing instead of handwriting, try completing a draft before editing, try first person instead of third (or the other way round, depending on what is their usual way of working).

    It’s really easy to mistake habitual ways of working for choices, and the only way to find out is to try doing something you ordinarily wouldn’t… so maybe you should give NaNoWriMo a whirl! It’s only a month. 🙂

    @Megan Hmm. I’m still not enjoying it as much as I thought – although reading it alongside Room and thinking about the way writers use other people’s trauma to make stories is interesting. There might be a blog post in it. What other JCO do you recommend? I’ve read Rape: A Love Story and many of her short stories, essays and journals (which I love). I think she’s a better critic and essayist than a novelist, so far I’m afraid.

  4. Trilby says:

    Sympathies on the first-draft-while-editing balancing act, Jenn. I’ve just come through the same thing myself and am alternating between terror and joy at the prospect of a full month with nothing to juggle alongside the WIP.

    Good luck with NaNo!

  5. Des says:

    I sat on the fence for a while before coming down on the side of mess and disorder and words on the page. Writing, it’s been said, is re-writing. First drafts are always pretty raw/awful. Seems, for me, better than another month of crawl and fret and staring at the page ’til my forehead bleeds.
    There’s an article in today’s Independent on nanowrimo (link below). While they might not have been part of an internet stunt (I share Paul’s queasiness) perhaps Spark, Greene and Co. felt the liberation of fast and free drafting.

    PS – Jenn, I did the Manchester MA this year, enjoyed the workshop you gave, went on to read your novel, which I loved – and so did my missus, who swiped my copy as soon as I’d finished! Looking forward to Cold Light.

  6. Megan says:

    Foxfire – I read it as a teenager and have remained loyal ever since. Girl Gangs – what’s not to love? (-:

  7. […] with my not be revealed paltry total so far. If you are still undecided here’s an interesting article on why it is a good […]

  8. @Trilby doing the two things at once is kind of weird, isn’t it? Not made easier by the fact that I’m a bit bored of Cold Light and so excited to get on with the new one. I’m sure that will change once the publication date looms a little nearer!

    @Des nice to see you again – and thanks for that link. I wonder if a lot of full-time writers write their first drafts at NaNo speed anyway (just over 1500 words a day, which is, I think, what Stephen Kind recommends on On Writing) and just don’t brag about it?

    @Megan I will finish My Sister My Love and see how I feel. I’ve bought far, far too many books since I got my kindle. I do like the sound of a book about girl gangs though.

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