OOK, we’re calling it. Our NaNoWriMo 2018 dream is officially dead.

We started out with such high hopes: back on that heady, dreamy morning of 1 November. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the fates were perfectly aligned. We were going to do it. We would achieve something great. Yes, along with thousands of other people around the world, we were going to write a novel in one month. We even committed publicly to it on our podcast.

It started well.

Actually, scratch that. The build-up in early October started well; we each had a great idea for a novel. We could both see our own stories playing out in our mind’s eye, see the characters jostling for position, eager to be set down on the page and start their adventures.

But the (ahem) writing was on the wall from the start. 1 November came with great intentions but… that was about it. Rookie mistake: we’d not finished plotting our stories and, because neither of us are very good at pantsing, that was one big obstacle to get over before we could start writing in anger.

But our really big mistake was one which we always knew was a risk right at the back of our minds, although (because we’re manly men, grrr!) we pushed thoughts of that risk aside and decided to barge on through regardless.

You see, writing a novel takes time and dedication as well as a kick-ass idea that you care passionately about. You need to be able to carve out some time to focus exclusively on getting the words down.

And that was where it all fell down. Because we’ve also this year set ourselves a teeny, tiny little task of building a publishing house and getting out into the world as many awesome stories from outstandingly talented authors as we possibly can.

Something had to give, and it could only be one thing: NaNoWriMo.

So we’re sitting here now, on 26 November 2018, with a little over 10,000 words between us and a NaNo dashboard taunting us with the following HUGELY inspirational message:

We could wallow in despair and self-pity, but that’s not the Burning Chair way. No, we’re all about finding the silver lining in that cloud, learning the lessons from the mistakes, building on the shoulders of our misfortunes and miscalculations so we can grasp that greater tomorrow.

And maybe, just maybe, one day finding the Wally/Waldo in that Egyptian pyramids crowd scene…

So what have we learnt and what would we do differently?

 

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Our biggie, let’s be honest.

It’s not that we couldn’t do it, if we really put our minds to it: our own Pete successfully completed NaNoWriMo in 2016 with a book which a few months later hit the shelves as The Demon Inside. It was an energising, frustrating, inspiring ride which kickstarted a period of furious writing activity and so was well worth it, and one reason that we enthusiastically encourage authors to get involved every time November comes along.

But to do NaNoWriMo properly you need to carve out at least a few hours a day to focus just on writing, time which for us had to be devoted to nurturing the rapidly-growing infant that is Burning Chair. What with all the time we need to spend focusing on our authors and their books, and marketing, and promotion, and other boring business stuff, plus spending time with our families… That doesn’t really tend to leave much left over for pounding out wordage of our own, unless we cut into some of that pesky time wasted on eating and sleeping.

And hey, kids, you should always make sure you get your 5-a-day and a good night’s sleep, so cutting those out is a no-no.

Hindsight’s 20:20, although we’re really kicking ourselves now as we should have been honest with ourselves at the outset that we genuinely did not have the time, this year, for NaNoWriMo. And that brings us to the next learning point…

 

Don’t beat yourself up

One thing we all learn from an early age is that life isn’t fair. Things don’t always go the way you planned.

But when they don’t, whatever the reason things have done wrong: don’t beat yourself up over it.

We’ve spent the last 3 weeks with that niggling feeling that we really should be working on our NaNo novels, even when we were doing other stuff that absolutely was higher priority. That big old monkey has been chattering away on our backs and occasionally banging coconuts on our heads while pooping all over our— [Pete, I’m killing this metaphor before it goes too far…! -Simon]

Anyway, you get the idea.

Writing this blog has been pretty cathartic. It’s so easy to be consumed by your novel, your staggering work of genius, to believe that it is the single most important thing in the entire universe. But sometimes (often? Always?) you need to make sure you have perspective. What’s the worst that will happen if your novel is delayed by a bit because you need to spend time on your family, or your day job, or getting some exercise?

Writing is important—we’re writers after all. But there are other things which are as, if not more, important.

For us it was all the stuff we’ve mentioned above. And realising that—and writing this blog—means that we can cast aside that monkey (chattering, coconuts, poop and all) and move on to…

Learn from the mistakes

A big part of our philosophy here at Burning Chair is to learn from our mistakes. There’s a fascinating and inspirational book we heartily recommend by Rozamund and Benjamin Zander called The Art of Possibility, where Benjamin Zander advises that, when you make a mistake, simply shout “How fascinating!”. You’re then free to learn from what you did wrong, stop dwelling on the negatives, and be in a great position to be even better next time.

You can see him doing this in action here.

The most successful people (writers, musicians, sportspeople, whatever) learn from their mistakes, not by being perfect 100% of the time.

So, we didn’t manage to write a novel in a month… How fascinating!

 

Your writing is for life, not just November…

NaNoWriMo is a great initiative, and a fantastic way to get thousands of people motivated and doing something amazing all at the same time. But it’s not the only time you can write a novel. There are 11 other months of the year, each of which perfectly suited in their own way to writing.

Cold and snowy outside? Wrap up snug and warm in your study, glance out at the winter wonderland and pound out some words.

Wet and windy? You don’t want to be outside. It’s horrible. Stay in and write.

A glorious sunny day? Grab the laptop / tablet / notepad, sit out in the sun and write!

You get the idea…

 

Get on and write

And that, as with most of our posts, is the core of our advice. You won’t get a book written by sitting around, agonising, beating yourself up, berating yourself for all those missed chances.

Set priorities which mean you don’t drive yourself mad trying to do too much all at once. Find some time which suits you.

And then write.

 

As for us? Our NaNoWriMo dream may be over for this year, but those stories are still going to be written. After all, these cold winter months are just made for getting down to writing.

So here’s our commitment to you: we will get our stories drafted by 28 February 2019. We will keep you updated how we get on, and you will be the first to know when we reach our goals.

And if we don’t do it this time, Simon promises to put his hand in his pocket and buy a round of drinks for everyone reading this blog*.

 

* – Errm, what?? -Simon

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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