How I survived #nanowrimo & finished the first draft of a 50,000 novel in 30 days

A month ago I quit my job. My notice period was four weeks. My motivation to be creative in that job: zero. The need to put my thought and experiences on paper and reflect on events and happenings was however beyond my control. There was never a better time to dive deep into my inner self and kick off my own#kathmosnowrimo, as I called it on Instagram.

For those of you who are not familiar with #nanowrimo, it’s an annual open call to writers and wannabe writers, to finish the first draft of a 50,000 word novel within the month of November. As I was two months ahead, I called it #kathmosnowrimo and aimed to finish it by the end of September.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a manuscript and work on it until it becomes published. I said to friends many times that one day I’d write a book, and they all encouraged me to pursue this plan. I guess for many of them it’s been entertaining to hear how my whole life has turned upside down every couple of months, weeks or even days. To keep it short, I never run out of new stories.

I must admit that even before I kicked off my #kathmosnowrimo I had a small crisis; a job offer waving at me from London and a boyfriend who had just moved to NYC. With my company and my boyfriend both moving to different cities I found myself ‘stuck’ in Berlin. The amount of ambiguities and misscommunication at work also made me reconsider whether joining the team in London really was the right next step.

I spent three days in bed, reading, knitting and thinking what would be the best solution. There was no bad choice. I just had to make a choice that would lead me forward and on my own path.

For a few days I stopped answering calls and messages, instead writing down what I wanted to accomplish in life, and also listing the advantages and disadvantages of moving to London and away from Berlin. I had expected to struggle with this bare analysis of my life goals but I had the list in front of me within just about two minutes.

The main reason to go to London was that I’d know what I’d do next; for many people this would be a good reason to go but to me this was my idea of a nightmare. It soon became clear that it was the right time to leave my job and instead choose the more adventurous path.

I handed in my notice, and thinking that I was leaving for London I had also also given up the contract on my room and so ended up having to move out the very same day. Luckily I have amazing friends and one of them invited me to stay with them. My friend doesn’t have a spare room or a comfortable sofa, but I was welcome to spend the month sleeping next to her.

Just in case you’re wondering what Berlin is like to live in now, this is very much part of the real experience.

So there I was, staying at my friend’s place, hustling to setup my own website, meeting potential clients, getting in touch with New York based influencers, writing the first draft of a novel, submitting a funding proposal to an open call of the European Commission and still doing my day job. All this for four long weeks.

During my few days spent in bed I turned my attention away from the computer world and devoured a couple of books instead. I read the ‘Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which helped me connect to my own values and “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Batty, which is a how-to-write-a-novel-in-30-days guide.

As you can imagine, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to write 50,000 words in such a short period of time. They say that the success rate of #nanowrimo is about 20% and I figured I needed a good strategy if I really wanted to succeed in this.

While reading “No Plot? No Problem!” was helpful – I’d recommend the book to everyone who is wondering whether it’s the right time for them to write a novel and how to do it – I found some tips needed to be expanded a bit further.

Probably the most important tip Chris Baty gave was; to write when you have lots of other things to do. Treating the writing as a reward and not as a duty during this writing month and in that way making it much easier to find the productive time for it too.

Looking back, I clearly made sure that this rule applied to me: September certainly was a month when I hustled more compared to all the other months since moving to Berlin. I had such crazy schedules that I was up every day at 6:30am and not in bed before 1am in order to get done at least half of the things I had on my list.

So, there you go;

Tip 01: Be as busy as hell and make writing your retreat, not another of your many duties.

I usually work out of cafés, and one morning I decided to go down to my usual hangout spot and write there. After a couple of minutes of staring at the screen I realised that I wasn’t able to write sitting next to other people. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, I didn’t want anyone to disrupt the inner dialogue that I realised I was only able to have with myself in pure solitude. Later I described what I had experienced to my partner, he replied with Kafka’s words:

“Writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind – for everyone wants to live as long as he is alive – even the degree of self-revelation and surrender is not enough for writing. Writing that springs from the surface of existence – when there is no other way and deeper wells have dried up – is nothing, and collapses the moment a truer emotion makes the surface shake. That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”

This brings me to:

Tip 02: Find the ultimate surroundings where you find the clue to your inner self. Your spot might be in a public space, in your own home or at the office after everyone leaves. Just make sure to be able to return to this very same spot every day.

Seeing how uncomfortable it made me to be in public, I realised I had to find the right time to write; time in which no one would distract me. The time for me, I quickly realised, was 6:30am in the morning.

I couldn’t wait to begin writing for #nanowrimo; the first day I woke up at 5am and instead of falling back to sleep, as I normally do, I opened my laptop and started working. I guess it was the excitement to start that woke me and from then on I would wake up at 6:30am without an alarm clock.

To establish a schedule, I tried to avoid all morning appointments before 10am, so that I could continue to write my manuscript. Due to my time frame, I never felt guilty about not being able to write any time after 9am. Admittedly on some days I had triple eye rings but apart from that I felt happy and content because every day I’d accomplished something meaningful.

Having a rigid writing schedule helped me a lot, which is why the next tip is:

Tip 03: Find a fixed time-frame for writing. Try not to schedule appointments during that time and don’t feel guilty for not writing outside of your fixed novel writing time.

By 9am I’d have usually written about 2,000 words, hence why I didn’t feel like writing anything for the rest of the day. In my job, writing is one of my main tasks, with writing the novel it all became a little overwhelming, so at work I kept my creative efforts to a minimum; I focused on handing over important data with Excel sheets, but I wouldn’t run any new experiments (this is how I spent my days before the company moved to London).

I must acknowledge that succeeding at #nanowrimo takes lots of discipline and might be quite hard for someone who earns their money through writing. #nanowrimo seems like the perfect month to get rid of the to-do list tasks that have accumulated over time. As in the dull stuff we write and keep on our lists and try to ignore until it’s too late. Doing these things now will make writing an even greater treat.

Tip 4: Try to focus on things that are not related to writing during business hours.

One of the most important things to remember during the whole month is to — as Chris Baty says — ‘leave your inner editor outside the door.’ Strictly speaking, you are not allowed to read anything you have written down.Ever. No corrections should be made during the month of your #nanowrimo. This is the time to get it out, not to get it out ‘right’. As Chris Baty says: ‘you cannot improve something you don’t have.’

When you hit 50,000 words you might not be finished with your story, as it’s the case with me, but at least you’ll have a starting point. Anyway, I’ll continue at the same pace for about another week, maybe two. And now I have the discipline to manage.

So remember,

Tip 5: Get it out and get it on the paper. Don’t try to correct any mistakes. You can only start editing after you’ve written “The End” and not before.

So there you are: 50,000 words later; I have a website to show what I’ll be focusing on as a location-independent freelancer (look how we can work together), a flight ticket to New York and the knowledge that when I really want to get something done, I can.

If I can, you can. Now, if you’ve been toying around with the wish to write a book, then allow me to be the one who tells you that if you really want this, it is possible.

The official #nanowrimo starts in a month. You can sign up here and get ready for it.

Good luck!

PS: If you’d like to receive updates on how it’s going with my book project, please sign up here.

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