What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo So Far. Plus An Excerpt from my Novel!

I announced in October that I was going to be undertaking my first NaNoWriMo this year and I am pleased to say that I have actually gone through with it… so far! I am currently at 10,034 words and am therefore right on track to be on 50,000 words by the end of the month as long as I don’t give up. I thought now would be a good time to share some of the lessons that I’ve learned so far with you all.

1. Plan or you will keep forgetting the names of all of your characters. I had an idea about what I wanted to write before I started writing but it was no more than I wanted to write historical fiction set in Post Roman Britain and I wanted to write it in first person. It turns out that this blank canvas idea was a mistake; every time I start a fresh day of writing I have to go back to earlier in the text to remind myself what my characters are called and their stories. This is ridiculous and it also wastes valuable time as I’m sure you can imagine!

2. Romano-British names aren’t very catchy. I am trying to make my novel as authentic as possible by using names that people would have actually been called in the period and there are some fantastic sources that list all the known names from Roman Britain. The problem is that the names aren’t very memorable or easy on the eye (or on the tongue for that matter) and if I call everyone Marcus or Julius I will look lazy. But, seriously, does anyone want to read about Cunedecanes, Cistumucus or Tamesubugus?

3. Sticking to your strengths is best. I find writing dialogue really hard, probably because I am awkward and bad at participating in conversations myself. Therefore my main protagonist has developed into an introvert who indulges in a lot of introspection but doesn’t really like people, which makes it a lot easier to write but probably a lot less interesting to read! Also if it comes to the point where I have to write a sex scene, if I find it really excruciating I will make my protagonist have a nonexistent love life so I don’t have to do it!

4. Inspiration from anywhere is good inspiration. When you have to write 1666 words per day to reach the target by the end of the month you find you will take inspiration from anywhere. The train driver who didn’t tell us why we were stuck in the tunnel for 10 minutes the other day now has a place in my novel as the person who failed to warn the army they were under attack. The guy who nearly ran me over as I walked across the road is the cart driver who sped over a cliff trying to get away from the enemy.

5. Writing 1666 words every day is hard! I have found that getting home from work, having dinner and then finding the motivation to write 1666 words every night is really difficult! I’m lucky to have some great coworkers who are doing NaNoWriMo too so we can write together occasionally and give each other moral support when we are struggling. It’s still bloody hard though!

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? How are you getting on?

Here is an excerpt from my novel The Lost Lands, it’s pretty crap as obviously the emphasis is quantity and not quantity when you have to write 50,000 words in a month! I will do many more drafts after the end of November and make it actually readable but I wanted to give an idea of the kind of thing I’m working on.

We marched in double file without talking except for the occasional mumbled curse when one of the men stepped into a pothole on the road. The way was lit by the palest of crescent moons which reflected enough light off the roadway to make it appear as a razor thin line dissecting the dark countryside. The fields and scattered woodlands were shrouded so heavily in darkness that we might as well have been marching through Hades.

We were about halfway home and walking over a small bridge over a river so small that nobody had troubled to name it when we walked straight into the enemy. Or rather they walked straight into us as their betrayed their location by talking. We were expecting the enemy and marching with our hands on our weapons but they were noisy and unprepared. I couldn’t see how many men the enemy had but if we let them strike first I knew we were as good as dead so I held up a hand to halt my men.

They lined up beside me and I hissed at them to ready javelins. When the vanguard of the enemy was less than ten metres from us I gave up any pretence at hiding and bellowed at my men to launch the weapons. I saw at least four of the enemy go down immediately as the lead tipped javelins hit them with sickening power. “Charge”! I bellowed, wanting to take advantage of the confusion in the Saxon ranks. We closed on them quickly and my world became a nightmare of swinging swords and bellowed curses. I found that I was screaming at the Saxons despite having no recollection of when it started.

In that first skirmish I discovered that I became a slave to adrenaline in battle. A man a good foot taller than me and stinking of mead swung a huge axe at me but trapped it in my shield and while he was still struggling to free it I caught him in the ribs with my borrowed sword and he went down howling. My face was sprayed in blood but I found much to my surprise that I was almost enjoying myself. Beside me Senorix was hacking away at two Saxons and out of the corner of my eye I saw him punch his shield into a man’s face.

I slipped on blood and nearly fell but Senorix held me up and grinned at me when I nodded my thanks. He was clearly enjoying the carnage and I watched aghast as he picked up a Saxon axe and used it to chop a man in the the groin as he would chop a tree. All around me my men were engaged in individual battles with Saxon assailants and I marveled at how we were pushing them back, my first encounter with the military advantage of surprise.

To my left one of my men went down, his face cleaved nearly in two by an axe and I immediately advanced on the killer. He swung his axe at me but I was too fast and I managed to punch my sword hilt into his face as he swung, turning his face into a maelstrom of blood and knocking him to the ground. The fight ended shortly after that; the Saxons broke and run into the fields realising that they were outnumbered. I forbid my men from chasing them as I didn’t want any of them being ambushed and killed in the dark.

The adrenaline left me in a rush and I bent over the ditch at the side of the road and vomited what felt like my entrails onto the grass. I was covered in blood and shocked at the violence of the night but I had survived my first battle. I felt an arm on my shoulder and looked up: it was Senorix. “You did well sir” he said approvingly, “we’ll make a soldier out of you yet.” “ How many men did we lose?” I asked, secretly thrilled at the veterans approval. “Three”, he replied “and Marcus has a pretty bad cut but he’ll survive. We killed seven of the bastards, though God knows there’s plenty more where they came from.”

“Make sure you finish off their surviv-” I began but a look from Senorix suggested that had already been taken care of. “If they have any weapons or food we can use then take it but let’s get out of here before the noise draws more visitors.” He nodded and went to attend to the bodies while I wiped my sword blade on a dead Saxons cloak to get the blood off it. We carried the bodies of our dead so we could bury them away from the Saxons and carrion crows.

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14 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo So Far. Plus An Excerpt from my Novel!

  1. This is an excellent start, in my opinion. Your descriptions are very real and make you feel like you are on that battlefield and fighting along with them. Also, I have the desire to want to know the rest of the story, which I believe is a positive for writing a novel. Good job.

  2. S. Robert Cyre

    Delightful job thus far. While it should come as no surprise to anyone that a Roman soldier would enjoy (in part) the art of killing, reading his thoughts as the carnage unfolds allows for the whole nasty business of warfare to appear softer somehow. Anyway, love the era more than you’ll ever know. Keep at it.

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement! I like the fact that writing in first person means that I can develop my main characters thoughts of war and what he encounters more than I could with third person. I’m glad you love the era too! 🙂

  3. I downloaded the app for Microsoft Word onto my phone so I can contribute a few words early in the day while my mind is fresh, which is the best time to me to write.
    I hit a rut today and lost momentum, but it helped me to pitch in on the forums. They say to write even if you don’t feel like it, but I realize that focusing your attention on writing something else is like hosing off the mud in the gears.
    It doesn’t look to me like you picked an easy subject to write. Good luck!
    And what’s the name you’re going by on NaNoWriMo.org?

    1. I’ve found writing on Google Drive really good as it means I can seamlessly sync between devices if I want to write on the train or after work. I hope you maintain the lost momentum soon, I find that really hard when writers block strikes. What are you writing?

      I’m on NaNoWriMo as Hatful of Hollow, feel free to add me on there. 🙂

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