Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Guest Post - How I cheated my way through NaNoWriMo and why I’ll do it again.

It's nearly Christmas.  Oh God, time is slipping away too fast, it only seems five minutes since I wrote my last Christmas post 'Jingle Bells'.  Well this week, we have the first of our seasonal treats and it's all about cheating, which is sort of what I'm doing right now, having a guest blogger!  It's by one of my favourite writers and tweeters, Louise West.  She was organised enough to do NaNoWriMo this year and she tells us all how she did it ... And next week, I promise those Ghost Hunters will be back!


Is it really December? The last thing I remember it was October 31st and I was putting the finishing touches to the post-it master-plan that covered my dining room table. I’d stocked up on teabags, milk, and other writing essentials and cancelled my social life. Why? NaNoWriMo, of course!

I’d stumbled across this slightly mad but perfectly genius concept of writers all over the globe signing up to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It was such a seductive scheme: a measly 1,667 words a day and a finished (ish) book by December. It was just what I needed to get me cracking on the idea I’d been stewing over for almost a year: Harvey the Wonder-Dog saving his Mummy from an evil, ghostly fiend (it’s not as Scooby-Doo as it sounds, honest).

Friday November 1st finally arrived. I started well, getting up extra early to bash out a couple of hundred words before work and by the Sunday night I was feeling smug with a word count of 8695. Go me! I crawled into bed, exhausted but buzzing with a sense of achievement.

Monday morning hit me like a sledgehammer. My back ached, my eyes blurred, I bumped into furniture and the last thing I wanted to do was go to work- not when my story was just kicking off. Though the weekend had been a crazy blur of typey-typey and tea-drinking, I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and I wanted to keep going while I was on a roll. I sketched out the next scene as I shovelled Frosties into my mouth and pondered on my problem. How on earth was I going to keep up the break-neck pace and work full-time too? It wasn't like I could skive off for the next three weeks, after all…

During my preparations, I’d written my “Ten Commandments for NaNoWriMo”, the first and most important being Thou Shalt Not Let The Day Job Suffer. But as committed as I am to my job (I’m a primary school teacher), NaNo was much more fun than lesson plans and I knew I was going to struggle to keep all the plates spinning. I hatched a cunning plan.

I’d cheat.

Even with my exceptionally poor multi-tasking skills, I can still think and do at the same time. I could be at work but my head could be writing without anyone noticing, and post-its are wonderful things for catching stray sentences until they can be safely nailed to a page. So that’s what I did. I cheated.
Anytime when only my physical presence was required, I wrote. In my head. In one fifteen minute playground duty I gave my main character a backstory. Serving up hot dinners, I mapped out the back garden and the all-important shrubbery. During a spelling test, I gave my antagonist a motivation that surprised me. The children, used to my strange ways, didn’t even react to me grinning and squealing at these odd moments. I shared my secret mission with them though, because they’re an awesome bunch and I knew they’d find out what I was doing anyway.

Staff meetings were a cheating-challenge. I have to think during those, but I still managed to write and not get rumbled. Around the edges of my notes about OFSTED are words like dead leaves slimy, wooden wind chimes, beetles crawl, purple shimmer, Bailey, seagull, and my favourite random scribble thunder-clap carrier bag.
My cheating was paying off. My dining room table now resembled one of the walls you see on police dramas, with colour-coded post-its and scraps of paper piled and linked and sprawled all over it. Each night I’d add my latest scribbles and type them up and look ahead to the next scene while I was washing up. I cheated in the shower; I cheated while I hovered; I even cheated when walking the dogs by taking my Dictaphone with me so I could write while throwing a tennis ball. I cheated in the car too: my characters had a whopping argument as I drove between schools one day, a fact which I probably shouldn't have shared with a colleague who now thinks I’m a nutter who talks to imaginary people…

By the end of the second week, the children were almost as excited about NaNo as I was. They knew that I wrote but they’d never seen it happening live in front of them, or had a chance to be part of it. By the third week they were pestering me first thing in the morning for my stats and counting down the final 10,000 words with the expressions of awe normally reserved for Father Christmas. They even forgave me for being tired and slightly dippy after a particularly late and productive night. They suggested names for my characters, came in with unusual words they thought I should include and were proud as punch when I asked if I could magpie some phrases from their own writing because it fitted perfectly with the scene I was working on.

When I reached 50,000 words on the 21st of November, they gave me three cheers and a dozen high-fives. I was exhausted but elated and eternally grateful to my children for supporting me and not dobbing me in when I didn’t mark their books (ONCE! It was ONCE!). I got the feeling they enjoyed it as much as me, maybe more so, seeing as they got to join in with the cheating, but didn't have to do any of the work…

So, next year, when I take part in NaNoWriMo I fully intend to cheat again- and I’ll be roping the children in again too. Who said cheaters never win?

Many thanks and much cake and loveliness to L.K. Jay, for inviting me to be a guest on her fabulous blog.

Louise's ghost stories are available to download from Amazon 

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