• caseytonkin

30 days to write a novel

Updated: May 25, 2020

Day THIRTY

Well I’ve finished. It's 12.31AM and I've just typed my final words, uploaded a backup of the document, and called it a day.


Probably I'll write more later but let's just go with what happens for now. That was awesome. I'm glad I'm done. It was a pretty hectic month. I stopped keeping track of things for a while there, but I kept at it.


Honestly, this is the most coherent piece of fiction I've put together in quite a while. Actually, there was a fantasy novel I'd been working one earlier in the year when I was unemployed after moving to Sydney and that wasn't so bad as far as not being total nonsense goes. I guess I mean comparing to my Nanowrimo attempt last year that was pretty garbage on reflection (although the main character of that one comes back in a big way this time around so I'll have to revisit some of that stuff for sure) and also the other two things I worked on in the year between finishing uni and, like, getting a job (one of which I only just got a rejection letter for this week, over a year after submitting it for review, so that's cool). Basically what I'm trying to say is that progress is happening.


Even better was that I did this whole month while also working full-time. I don't know, man, I've kind of had the expectation for a while especially during uni that working would dull my creativity somehow that it would leave less time for projects like this, but I was able to make time in the end by giving myself blocks of time at the start and end of the day (I had a really good run of getting up and writing before 6am) as well as mixing things up a little by putting some words down on the train or sneaking away for 15 minutes at work. Those extra bits helped so much and kept me fresh.


Super keen to keep some of this momentum going, although I have all of tomorrow marked down for VIDEO GAMES FUCK YES THAT'S GOING TO BE SICK DUDE. Thinking about an essay to submit to a prize early next year so I'd better get cracking. Then it'd be nice to spend some time revising older pieces for a bit while letting this one ferment for a while. Which reminds me:


If you want to help me out by reading this novel-thing and giving me feedback please contact me in whatever method you know how. Seriously I'm paying half attention to all things so if it's a DM on social or a phone call or an email or a fucking carrier pigeon or smoke signals or whatever just get in touch and I'll send you a link to read through and comment on. Beta readers would be great. Do that. Please.


What else is there?


Well, I smoked more cigarettes this month than I have in a long time. That's not so good. Including two tonight on the final stretch (two in a night, my goodness!). And made a decent dent in a fresh bottle of whiskey. Let's aim for some more healthy habits, hey?


On a more positive note, it feels like I might have finally cracked through an obsession I've had since like my honours year with fictional characters being aware they're fictional or some shit like that. Not that there aren't elements of that in this, but it feels better worked through and less important which is nice for me.


Anyway, I think I'm going to go to bed now and, uh, yeah get up and play video games. Will I add to this in the morning? I don't know. I swear there was more I wanted to talk about, but fuck it. I'm done.


50,000 words was a lot. I'm stoked. Yay!



Day NINETEEN

Man I’ve skipped a few days here. Very behind on this attempt (I said that yesterday) but I’m trying to remain confident. Need to really kick some goals during this week and just keep things trucking along. Lots of socialising last week was AWESOME I had a heap of fun, but it’s pushed me back a teensy bit. So I figure I can push through this week, keep getting up and putting together 20-25 minutes like I’ve just done and then combine that with decent weekend sessions then I should be able to get myself back on track.

What’s happened in the story? Well it’s moving toward the denouement still. There’s I guess the last 20k to write still and I only really have one idea about how that’s going to go. The tension of the whole thing is sort of finished after the second of my characters died. He was sort of the antagonist of it all. So now we’re going back to a place I’ve written about a lot before, a fictional town I call Turantoola. It’s been home to a lot of characters over the years and was the setting for my nanowrimo attempt from last year (that I printed and read like part and has since spent the best part of 12 months gathering dust) so I’m glad to return there, bringing a couple of surviving back to see that place. I’ve got an idea of how it goes at the end, maybe the last few thousand words, so the rest I’m well and truly going to have to wing it with.

Anyway, I’ve got to get work.


Day SIXTEEN


Well, I'm a bit behind now. The wheels have started to fall of this attempt. Days of friends, drinking, love, gambling, art, theatre, music have compounded to put me behind. Life, as it goes, got in the way. Now it's up to me to figure out a way of getting back on the horse. One day at a time, I suppose.


Day TWELVE

Slow start but I got it done in the end. Half an hour in the morning wasn't enough to satisfy my ambitions but, after returning home from a couple of cocktails with friends after work, I ended up writing more than I did yesterday and hey that's not so bad.


Also, I killed someone tonight. Well, he was always going to die but then there, it happened. Second person to have died on my watch in two days. But at least we're moving forward with the plot now. I've still got really no true idea where we're going with it. Feels a little bit more like the story is telling itself. That's fine, I guess. I mean, it makes it a bit easier and gives me a bit more scope to play around. Would be nice if I had something in mind that I wanted to happen, which I think I've said below that I did but, uh, no. Not at all. Oh well.


Today is Sama's birthday and I slept in so I didn't have quite so much time to get things done. But we're sort of recovering I guess from the deaths, dealing with them now, and that's all good.


Going to go give Sama a birthday present now. Then I'll head off to work. Might bring my laptop home so I can work on the train since I won't pull myse



Day ELEVEN


Still not exactly getting up at 5am (more like half past) but I got it done this morning still. Knocked out 1,000 words between 5:45am and 6:15am. Also killed off a character which I hadn't expecting. Not a nice way to go but it kind of struck me as the thing to do, or that there was an opportunity, so there we go. Oops. That's probably for the better almost though since I've been feeling a bit bogged down lately. Not 100% sure where it's all going, in what direction.


I have something in mind for the denouement, sort of (?). A confrontation in a certain place. Need to get out of the city and suburbs. Need to find some new locales to set the action in.


Not sure if I need some new characters, but maybe just more action. Too much sitting around and talking, getting to know everybody. Bloody half the thing can't just be getting to know characters though so let's get a move on.


Best go get ready for work now I reckon.


Day TEN

Really knocked it out of the park today. Had my aim of getting to 20,000 before the end of the weekend, and I got there. Hit more than, I don't know, like 2,500 words before 10.30am, then did some chores. Mowed the lawn, had some lunch, spent some time with Sama. She went off to the shops so I finished off the final bit of my words for the day, got the 20,000 I had aimed for then went and played a game of Dota2. It went for like 70 minutes and required a massive come back.


Then I did some laundry while listening to Dan Carlin's 'Hardcore History' podcast. That's always illuminating to get into, but very detailed and often difficult subject matter. War.


That was followed by some reading and dinner made lovingly by Sama.


After dinner, I played two more games of Dota. Won all three today actually.


Then I finished off reading Lincoln in the Bardo. Which was a decent read. I don't know. By the end of it I enjoyed what I got from it, but there were times in the middle when I was trying to read at night before bed and just found the whole thing a bit frustrating to read. Experimental fiction can be a bit like that. Takes a bit more reading than think I've been used to. Expecting nowadays to be spoon-fed a bit I think.


Day NINE

Did not write as much as I wanted to today. Had a good day overall, though.


Sama and I set up our little balcony space with a table and chairs and some plants so we now have a place to sit and have a coffee first thing in the morning without going downstairs. Did a bit of gardening, then fell asleep for a while. In the evening we watched a bit of TV and barely started a movie before going to bed to read. How's that for a Saturday?



Day EIGHT

Terrible start to it this morning. Couldn't get anything done. But I’m here now and put a total of 547 words down. Did most of that after I showered and got ready for the day. Might need to accept that I’m not going to be able to follow the routine I aimed for to perfection and allow for a bit of wiggle room. That means both knowing that I won’t always get done what needs to be done in the time I’ve allotted, but also going back and sitting down to write outside of those times. Off to work now. See you tonight when I get back.


Aaaand I'm back. It's been another unproductive evening. Thankfully I wrote most of what I needed to on the train home from work. Honestly I'm pretty bushed so it might just be a chilled out rest of my night and then bed and back to it for a few hours tomorrow morning.


Sitting at over 15,000 words at the moment. I'd love to hit 20,000 by Monday which I think I can do if I actually focus and spend less time on socials. Hmmm. So that's a good aim. Feels like it's a lifelong struggle against that garbage. But oh well, I'm still hitting targets.


Day SEVEN

Morning session was okay. Now it’s 8:24pm and I’m getting ready to settle in for a little bit and work some more.

Feeling a little bit intimidated by the task at the moment, even though I’m on target. Just don’t know exactly how the whole thing is going to come together is all, that’s the hard part.

And I can feel myself wanting to be distracted, and that’s what I’ve just done midway through this sentence: gone off on a tangent reading about shoegaze when I should (there’s that obligation, the ought, the must, the need) be writing and writing properly. Otherwise I’ll just disappoint myself.


The good thing is that usually after a decent session, for the most part, I end up feeling pretty good. There’s a nice buzz that I get out of writing.


Bad news is that my right knee is not in a very good way. I’ve been standing for the past week at my desk and doing my usual walking but today after my lunch walk I could really feel it. Very sore. Quite swollen. So I’m sitting down again and have been sitting down at work as well. Here’s hoping it heals okay.


Listened to Ali Smith reading her book ‘Artful’ which has been an absolute joy. The way she writes and the way she reads are amazing. It’s a brilliant meditation on life, death, art, time, society, humanity. Everything. All supremely tied in to a story about a woman whose lover has died. Wonder. Masterpiece. All that good stuff.


Anyway I listened to the end of it while I took to the back yard with a weed whacker.


Then I ate a delicious curry that Sama made.


And then after that and watching some TV and then watching videos of people playing video games on YouTube I finally ended up here sitting at my desk listening to an artist called Suicideyear and describing the second half of my day to you INSTEAD OF WRITING THE NOVEL.


Day SIX


Up at 5:30 this morning. Not the best start to the day. Feeling very groggy and tired. My hands are extremely stiff. Got straight to it though, no fucking around, which felt good. Began diving deeper into another character who’s been part of the story but in the periphery of it. Taking some time to get to know her as a bit of a break at the beginning of a new section.


Am enjoying this overall. Like I think I’ve said before, this is so far, and we’re not yet a week in, my best attempt at Nanowrimo to date which is fantastic. I’m very pleased with myself so far but have to be aware that I can’t go resting on my laurels. Need to keep pushing and staying DISCIPLINED. Which I find most difficult to do at 5am or at night when I’m keen on doing anything else.


Later that day…


It’s my 8pm session now and I am uninterested. 15 minutes in and, I’ll be honest, I’ve only just gotten off the floor. Then I checked socials. Now I’m writing this. It’s a warm-up, okay? Don’t judge me.


Looking at my stats and a bit disappointed I didn’t get to the daily minimum yesterday. Thankfully, I’ve had plenty of days well over what’s required so it’s no biggie. But yeah, bummer.


Been doing something different with my ears today: listening to like a DJ mix instead of my usual algorithm-generated listenings which I must say is kind of nice. Feels like a bit more of a connection to an actual person and has given me a better appreciation of DJs who I spent a lot of my life making fun of with that attitude of ‘you’re just pressing play on a playlist mate’ and now I see that’s not a particularly generous assessment.


Sorry past DJs for the thoughts that I probably definitely never said to your face because I’m far too scared of confrontation for that kind of brutal honesty.

Though I do remember spending an evening manning the decks at a party and doing a downright atrocious job, even if at the time I thought I was the shit. Booze and confidence is a helluva thing.


Anyway, the thing about working at night is that it feels quite similar to being here firsts thing in the morning: I’m tired. The good thing is that if I just keep at it and maybe stretch a bit or jump up and down or scream quietly to myself then I start to wake up and get a fucking move on.


Later still...

9:05pm and I'm done. Put down like 1,300 words in half an hour then and 1,200 of them were entirely unpunctuated so good luck to me when I have to edit that later and go through it all. Mostly it's background stuff, a bit of worldbuilding and explaining some 'supernatural' sort of powers. These are the kinds of sessions that feel really useful and easy and fun and get the word count up but tend not to be all that critical to the plot which has pretty much come to a grinding halt today.


Going to have to return to the action tomorrow I think, perhaps with the character, a Ms Humphries whose backstory I worked on this morning. Get her into the scene in some way or another just to make sure it keeps rolling on.


Off to go for a walk with Daisy to meet Sama at the train station. Au revoir.


Day FIVE

45 minutes late to my keyboard this morning. Easily the hardest morning I’ve faced as far as waking up goes. Bit disappointed in myself. Put $45 dollars into my savings as a bit of a slap on the wrist.

Not that this is the first time I’ve been late in November. On the weekend I slept in a couple of times through my intended start time. Once I even fell asleep on the floor when I was meant to begin writing. I dozed for an hour before getting up and starting work. Thankfully, I’d blocked out three hours so it didn’t matter too much.


Clearly, I’m not getting enough sleep. Last night was probably one of those nights. Didn’t get to bed until near 11mp and then lay there reading for a bit. The closer I get to having only five hours sleep the more I struggle.


Oh well, it’s not the end of the world. I’m still a day ahead. Almost 700 words ahead of where I need to be by the end of November 5, so that’s pretty good.

Still, I’m going to get back into it for half an hour before I get ready for work. Making lots of progress. Am also writing at about a pace of 30ish words per minute which puts me around 900 words every half hour. At that rate (which is fairly concentrated) I really only need to put an hour into this each day to well and truly get there.


The good thing about being ahead is that I can even finish early. The online tool estimated that I would finish by November 22 if I kept it up so that would certainly save my fingers something serious. They are very, very sore at the moment. Poor hands.


Didn't do a lot of writing in the evening. Skipped past my allotted time which is actually quite disappointing. Played Dota2 instead so do with that what you will. Either way, I'm about a day ahead of where I need to be and so if I just keep up the pace and do the minimum number each day I'll walk in over the finish line in no time.

Day FOUR

Early on the distractions. Facebook chats are coming in to take up valuable computer time. You see, I’ve allotted times each day for this task. About two hours. Now if, yeah, like, if I follow that and work properly throughout then it should be enough to easily make up 1667 words, no problem.


I don’t have to be writing for that full two hours each day of course, there’s time to lie on the floor and just be a little bit bored or whatever, but the ease with which I can jump on messenger and talk to people or tweet stuff and scroll could be a problem. Not that I’m saying it is. But it could be. Something to think about for sure.


Also noticing that night-time productivity is way down. I’m just tired. Even tonight with a coffee after dinner, after watching a bit of TV I’ve got bugger all. Thankfully I don’t feel very behind so it gives me some space to update the blog, even if I’m not putting more nano words in.


Also though I might have to kill off the net or consider that being part of the optimisation since this session has largely been wasted. Also I was a couple of beers in during dinner and that slowed me down. I can feel the combination of fatigue and slightly pissed really weighing me down. When I’ve had a drink I get of course a bit uninhibited but also find it hard to imagine really properly. Other thoughts will pop in there and maybe there’s some kind of creativity but the sustained imagination required for a novel is really not a big part of my life after a few beers.


So that’s another thing to take on board in this early stage of the process. You know because if I’m going to succeed again this year and make something I’m happier of than last time around, I need to give myself the best possible shot and yeah like internet plus booze is definitely not part of that best possible shot I don’t think. Then again I’ve known this for a while, but saying something publicly maybe that’ll be the difference maker.


Day Three

A flower! Remember the flower, the purpose of the flower. The journey through hell and the flower at the end.


Not you, this isn’t for you. But you’re reading it anyway. I mean for the guy who’s back here tonight or whenever and who has a mild case of amnesia brought on by, I don’t know, a bad mood, being hungry, being distracted, having too much fun and not wanting that fun to stop. Either way, it’s just a reminder about the flower.


Alright I think I have made a decent bit of progress with this session. 987 words in well just under an hour. Not too bad. Going to be about the pace, I think, if not a little bit above it.

Got my characters into that room together which has taken us back in time to when they previously met 20 years in the past. I think there’s going to be an ‘incident’ that I would like to get up to tonight and will hopefully inform or build more of the tension in the present day (2028) version.


Not doing like any world building yet which is probably for the better. I tend to get bogged up trying to juggle so many different things together.


Kind of fallen into uglier prose and less tight storytelling now compared to the first day. It’s not that that’s a bad thing but just noticing it. Feels not so good but I’m having to kind of force myself a bit more than I’d really like.


[Later:]


After a session of following @Nanowordsprints I had the most productive effort yet! Got to some great places in the story, in the character development and feel like I understand the whole thing so much better. I’d been dreading another block of writing after the last one felt like such a grind, but it was so much fun this time around and I’m feeling good.


Day TWO

Already this is getting difficult, and I have barely started.


It’s warm, too warm, and late in the evening.


I am tired and uninterested.


The writing bores me.


This morning’s vision has gone. Every thought I’ve had throughout the day, gone. All that’s left instead are the shells of characters who I was meant to flesh out, who I told myself I would flesh out, who I was in the very process of fleshing out when, less than 24 hours later, they’re gone. But they’re not gone, not really. The characters are still there. They’re on the page just as they were this morning. They’re in my head still (somewhere) just as they have been while I’ve been going about my day.


What’s gone, what’s disappeared, is my motivation. Because it’s the end of the day and because I’m in an introductory part of everything, and because I don’t entirely know where it’s going at the moment (although that’s not true because I know much of the story, have known it for years. The only thing that’s changed is that I’m actually writing at the end of the story I knew, that’s where this novel begins.


So yes I really just need to plug along and get the characters moving. It feels slow but it’s fine.

No more imposter syndrome. No more ‘people won’t like this’ just fucking get on with them, get them wandering from room to room, and give us something to work with tomorrow. Because if you don’t get them there now then some poor guy’s going to be stuck sitting here in the morning wondering why the fuck it’s still so slow. Please. Only five minutes left on your timer and that’s probably enough to get something happening.


Just give it a crack.


But I’ll be honest, it’s been a tough time of it so far. Very few words done.

Returned to something I’d previously written (and gotten a laugh out of) to include since the actual creative act of writing is not something that’s coming naturally to me at the moment.

I’ve spent much of this session doing anything but writing including: playing the guitar poorly, sleeping on the floor, and writing the word ‘stuck’ over and again in a notebook.


This is only truly day two and I’m already struggling hard to meet the word limit. Probably because I’m caring too much about it being perfect or whatever. Worried in that case that I’ll just end up doing the same thing I’ve done so many times before: write and write and write a whole load of words that together have no meaning or value. It’s the concentrated effort that holds all the value, and that’s the hardest part. Even though it feels very good when you get on a flow.


Day ONE


Last year, for the first time, after many previous attempts, I completed nanowrimo—an online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.


Much has changed in the 12 months since then: I have moved to Sydney, away from family and friends; I have found full-time work; I have not done much creative writing.


Almost every year now I look forward to nanowrimo because I see it as an opportunity to do something new, fresh, exciting. Nanowrimo is gamified, which gives nice little reminders of process and brings out that little bit of competitiveness in me. And there is a community of like-minded folk to make the experience feel less lonely (though I must admit this is a resource I haven’t much tapped into).


Unfortunately, nano is also a reason for me to be complacent. Cool idea, save it for November, I tell myself.


Later on this month, I’d like to commit to taking the next step in my creative writing process by taking what I’ve learnt through this process and extending the work ethic of nano out a bit further. But again that’s thinking about the future. Let’s stay here and now.


To achieve the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, each writer must aim to write 1,667 words per day. The tough part is not that 1,667 is an unassailable task—far from it—but rather finding the time and effort each day to reach that number. What’s worse is that, for each day missed, the amount needed compounds pushing you further behind, making it even harder to come back.


In preparation for this year’s nano I’m doing a few things to prepare:


1. Keeping a writing journal


This blog will serve as a way for me to show others what I’m up to, thereby hopefully not making it so lonely. Also it’s a place where I can whinge for a little bit. I can also come back here next year—or even just when I’m needing to check up on myself—and see what I have been up to.


2. Blocking out time

Last week, I sat down and chunked out time each day for writing. Since I work 9-5 (what a way to make a living) and, I find writing on the train to be rather uncomfortable, I chose instead to find times outside my working hours: first thing in the morning, and after dinner. Two blocks should mean that, if I miss one, I can catch up. We’ll see.


3. Writing what I know

Leading up to nano I’d been planning a new story. There was going to be a bunch of new characters, a whole new plot and new setting. Only almost none of it was coming to mind. I was really struggling to make the vision happen. You’ll get it in November, don’t worry, I told myself. But instead I’ve decided to revisit the first novel project I started working on. More about that in the coming days.


4. Starting early

It’s currently 6:42AM on Wednesday, October 30. So yeah I’m a little early. I’ve got the ‘Wake Up Gently’ Spotify playlist going. I’m still a little tired, and the words are fuzzy because I’m not wearing my glasses. My wrists are also sore from all the office work—I will need to address that. By starting early, well, let’s be honest I’m cheating a bit, but I don’t feel like I’m cheating myself. Just having this first blog post done means I can tick part of day1 off the list. And tomorrow (or tonight) when I get back here to start writing the novel, maybe I can knock part or all of another day out.


I’m going to get ready to go to work now. Would be great to have your words of encouragement. Leave them below or get my attention however else you know how.