What I did on my Holidays part 1: Pilgrimage

Can't believe I'm actually here.

Top of my list to do while we were in the Bay Area around San Francisco  (after finishing the second draft of Every Vow You Break, of course) was to visit my Alma Mater – the Office of Letters and Light, out of which NaNoWriMo is given to the world every November.

Now then, if you have read this blog for a bit, or if you have ever bumped into me anywhere, you will know that I am a bit evangelical about NaNoWriMo, so feel free to skip the next para or two.

If you’re wondering, though: it’s how I started believing I could write a novel. It’s an international, web-based initiative that sees hundreds of thousands of people around the world attempting to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November (that’s about the length of Catcher in the Rye).

The watchwords are quantity not quality, and the whole idea is to free yourself from those pesky internal editors that tell you your first three chapters are rubbish and you have no right to continue with your story until you sort them out. That’s exactly where I was back in 2007, when I did my first NaNoWriMo. Cuckoo was my second, in 2008.

What NaNoWriMo gives you is the chance to see how you fare with long-form fiction without the whole scary thing of devoting a year or more to it. Of course, you must never, ever show anyone your first draft NaNovel, because it will be, for the most part, PANTS. But, to continue with the lower body half metaphor, you may read through it a month or so later and discover that it has legs of sorts. That’s what I did with Cuckoo. It took a year’s editing to get it to the point where I felt able to show it to anyone else, but at least I had a starting point. And some of those scribbled words in November 2008 are still there in the final published novel (but most aren’t).

Anyway, I took my family along to the Office, which was a very short drive from where we were staying, and we went in with copies of Cuckoo to say hello. What a lovely lot, and what a buzzy, creative place. Not only do they do NaNoWrimo, but they also run a Young Writers’ Program, which brings the whole thing into schools, and Script Frenzy, which is the same process, but applied to movie scripts in April.

me signing copies of Cuckoo with Lindsey Grant, NaNoWriMo Program Director and Chris Baty, Executive Director

It was a real thrill to see where it all happens, and to meet the people in the Office. I felt very proud that I could leave my published novel behind when we left. I’m not the only NaNoWrimo author to be published, though. Not by a long shot. There’s a whole list of us. I have had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Haynes, whose chilling and brilliant novel Into The Darkest Corner was, like Cuckoo, a 2008 NaNovel.

I came away all glowy from the welcome we received, and I have now got a stack of postcards to hand out to people when I start my habitual going on about NaNoWrimo.  I also have stickers, a ‘Noveling pen’ and the 2008 NaNoWriMo poster, which will be framed and hung in my studio as soon as I get home.

Arty photo of me and Chris Baty reflected in a NaNoWriMo poster, taken by Owen Crouch (BigSon).

If you are interested in taking up the November challenge, the best place to start is Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem. With that, and Stephen King’s On Writing, you’ll be, as they say out here, ‘All Set’!

4 thoughts on “What I did on my Holidays part 1: Pilgrimage

  1. Hi Julia
    I am very envious that you got to visit there and meet the team – they do a fantastic job – and I have three NaNoWriMo projects done and a Script Frenzy over the last few years and can’t wait to do it all again this November. With the blogging this year, I’ll be sure to be blogging my progress too on there.

    I was so pleased to find out that Cuckoo started out this way – gives us all that extra bit of hope.

    And will be seeking out and ordering Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner now for my Kindle (of course 🙂

    Can’t wait to read your next one.

    Best wishes


    1. Hi Keith
      It’s a bracing thing to do, isn’t it? Have you taken any of your NaNo Projects any further ever?
      Coincidentally, Elizabeth tells me she is going to the Office of Letters and Light in a couple of weeks, too. She’s on Twitter as @Elizjhaynes . Her book is great, published by Myriad.

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