Posted by on Nov 21, 2006 in nanowrimo, novel writing, writer's block | 2 Comments

The value of compression

Writing a novel in a month is a daft thing to do. It’s a lot of fun and it teaches you a great deal about the process of writing a novel which comes in useful when you step back to write a real novel in a sensible time-frame, but it’s an insane enterprise.

Compressing the whole experience in 30 days means that there isn’t much time to agonise – the words have to be squeezed out or banged down and most other considerations go out of the window. Even so, people still manage to go blank, or develop writer’s block and – bizarrely – I’ve discovered the best way to get them through such hurdles is to make life more difficult for them.

So ‘my’ novelists are trying to include ‘death to all sunburnt penguins’, ‘I’d rather have gravy on it’ or ‘get your face out of my beak, you fascist’ in their novels. And amazingly enough, being challenged to incorporate the utterly ridiculous kick-starts their creativity in many cases, and even if they don’t manage to fit the phrase into their work, they do find a way to start writing again (and they can always cut the penguin/gravy/fascist reference when they come to edit their first draft).

I assume, somewhat unscientifically that problem solving in the concrete sense (how do I include a penguin in a science fiction novel?) is performed by a different part of the brain to problem solving in an abstract sense (what do I write next?) and that the former can take over when the latter has stalled, giving a writer a new way to resolve the dreaded blank page syndrome.

It’s also a lot of fun to read their excerpts and see how differently people are using the phrases, and it boosts community spirit.

As I say, writing a novel in a month is daft, but the paradox seems to be that the harder you make it, the easier it becomes.

NaNo word count – 40411


  1. Julia Buckley
    21st November 2006

    I am loving Nanowrimo, it’s been a real eye opener for me.

    Well done for the amazing wordcount.

  2. kathrynoh
    22nd November 2006

    I’m not doing nanowrimo but it’s an interesting idea. Might have to try something like that to get put some life into a story I’m working on.


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