On Writing: How to be a NaNoRebel

While I credit NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with launching my adventures writing fiction, I don't often enough discuss a small technical detail that actually makes me a bit of a NaNoWriMo outcast, at least among some.

I'm a NaNoRebel.

What is a NaNoRebel?

A NaNoRebel is someone who takes part in NaNoWriMo but doesn't write a novel. When the word novel is in the title of this annual writing initiative and indeed the word count (50,000 words) is chosen specifically because it's the length of a (short) novel, you can be forgiven for thinking that if you take part in NaNoWriMo you have to write a novel. 

Accept I strongly believe you don't.

I believe that NaNoWriMo is just as effective at getting anything written: poetry, prose, screenplays, memoirs, biographies, non-fiction, blog posts, an e-course, a dissertation... it really doesn't matter as long as you commit to writing 50,000 words of something creative in the 30 days of November. You will learn just as much from that as you will from writing a novel, believe me.

While I also believe in the beauty that is a well-formed, beautifully-written, world-encompassing, soul-soothing novel, I don't believe that it's the only way to tell stories that are moving and powerful. The more I write and publish short stories and the more I read short fiction, novellas, and even flash fiction, the more I fall in love with shorter formats. I will also hold my hands up and say yep, I find writing short fiction a lot easier than I do writing novels which is not only evident by the fact I'm still yet to publish a novel, but also proven in my own NaNo track record. See below.

My experience as a NaNoRebel

For my first NaNoWriMo, I wrote the first draft of around 12 short stories, ten of which made it into my first book, Shy Feet Short Stories Inspired by Travel (after six months of editing and polishing, I hasten to add!).

For my second NaNoWriMo, I wrote the first draft of the short stories that became London Eyes: Short Stories, my second published collection of fiction.

For my third NaNoWriMo, I did actually write a novel. I wrote just over 50,000 words of a novel that was actually a full-length story based on one of my short stories in London Eyes (An Invisible Girl if you're interested) and while the novel was only half-finished at the end of November 2014, and I have worked on it a lot since, it's never got anywhere close to being finished, let alone published.

For my fourth NaNoWriMo, I wrote a mix of first drafts of short stories that ended up included in my third collection, Nine Women: Short Stories and I also began the sequel to my published novella, The Wait. I also lost. It wasn't that I didn't have enough things to write I just didn't have enough time. Plus I had a three-month-old baby who didn't like to sleep much... ever. While I "lost" I gained a whole lot from this experience, not to mention over 35,000 words of new material which I did turn into something.

For my fifth NaNoWriMo, last year, I began writing the first draft of another novel based in New Zealand. It is based on an idea I originally drafted for a story for Shy Feet (so five years previously!) and I had so much fun getting lost in three strong characters against a strong backdrop... but while I made it past 50,000 words, I didn't finish the first draft and I'm sad to say that nearly a year later, I still haven't finished the first draft. (Two words: PLOT HOLES.) But again, I learned a lot.

So now I sit here about to embark on my sixth NaNoWriMo. The demands on my time are lesser than the last two years (as I'm no longer breastfeeding and my son is sleeping through the night) but I'm actually feeling a lack of confidence because I am yet to "finish" any of the novels I've started and while I have several ideas for other novels (mo' ideas, mo' problems!), I don't want to add another unfinished manuscript to the pile.

I suspect what this means is that I will pick up one of the two unfinished novels and add another (much-needed) 50,000 words to them because both surely need it.

Or I will write the first drafts of the short story collection I want to base in Amsterdam...

Because I'm a proud NaNoRebel and I believe that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is not to get everybody writing novels, but just to get everybody writing...

Photo of WriteNOW Cards, available here with FREE SHIPPING! Order before 13th October to get delivery before #NaNoWriMo.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
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