It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t mean Christmas is coming; I mean NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Writers everywhere are tying themselves in knots through November in an effort to produce the 50,000 words in the space of thirty days that the competition demands. That’s an average of 1,666 words per day, which is not impossible by any means, but it is a considerable commitment of time and effort. And quantity, of course, is no guarantee of quality. If you are well-organised, it can be a very good way to get the first draft of your novel down on paper.

I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo, though it’s been around since 1999. This year I’m in the ideal situation – my book is largely planned and I’m 25,000 words in. Another 50,000 words would complete my first draft. In a month. I thought about it carefully, too – but I shall not be taking part this year.


When I stand on the top of the Chesil Beach look along its pebbly bulk towards Portland, I can’t help but observe that it’s composed of nothing but masses of little stones, each complete in itself, each taking its own part in creating something much larger and more impressive. The individual words of a book do that too, don’t they? Weather and tide have arranged the pebbles in a precise and particular order, which is what the writer does with the words of her book. My point? Nature arranges the beach in her own good time, and this writer prefers to let her story evolve naturally, too. That’s not to say I never set myself targets or make an effort – but the best ideas come along when they’re ready, and for me, too much forcing rarely produces good results.

Now, I know that NaNoWriMo works very well for lots of people, even if they don’t reach the 50,000 word target. Many a good book has evolved from the discipline of it. But to churn out all those words in thirty days is too relentless a commitment for me, and would be too neglectful of other things (and people!) in my life.

So this year I shall be cheering on my writing friends who have taken up the challenge. I wish them good luck and lots of splendid ideas. And me? I’ll be working at my usual pace, taking my time, letting the story develop and ripen and creep into shape, just like the Chesil Beach. Time and tide will work with me – the best assistants any writer could wish for.


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