NaNoWriMo – the trick is packing it all in

NaNoWriMo flyer 2

In 1997 I went to Asia with a friend. We were obsessed with travelling light and bought tiny rucksacks, easy to haul on and off of buses and trains and use as pillows to help prevent them being stolen.

Great plan, you might think. Apart from the proportions of our packs not matching at all the volume of things we might require or want for a supposed year-long trip. Of course, only once we were well into our overland crawl from Nepal to Goa, did we realise quite how ridiculously ambitious our light-living ideals had been. Thus, we always had more stuff to carry than our bags could hold.

There had only ever been space for necessities; our packs were bulging before we left England with malaria pills, toiletries, first aid equipment and clothes suitable to take us from a Sikh temple to the beach. But as I travelled, I wanted to buy mementos too. I was pretty certain this was a one-time trip – and I haven’t been back yet. Sarongs and small ornaments quickly joined the ‘necessities’ list. More space had to be found.


I would wake up in the night, my dreams of how to fit more into my pack seared onto the backs of my eyelids. I would have to test my idea there and then, by torch or candlelight, gleefully wasting precious resources we needed for one of the frequent power cuts. Every time I thought I’d found the optimum packing format, I’d see something else I wanted to buy, and each time my desire to own something new took over, I would somehow find a way to fit it into my poor, obese pack.

And that’s what it’s like taking part in NaNoWriMo.

At the end of the week 1, I’ve written 12,000 words of Sleeping Ghosts and I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed it. All I know is somehow it’s happened, with about 6,000 words of ‘extra stuff’ that doesn’t count towards the final tally stuffed in there on top.

Not drinking alcohol has undoubtedly helped stretch my days. Removing red wine from my life has also been surprisingly easy. I thought I was genetically part merlot. Seems not.

Yet even with the clear head and energy for early morning workouts not drinking has given me, it’s still been a challenge fitting all the extra writing around my paid work. Various time organisation experiments have revealed it really doesn’t matter which order I do things in.

The trick is wanting to fit it all in. If I want to do it, somehow, it gets done.

I have limited pockets of time, just as I had a finite amount of space in my pack. Compartmentalisation is crucial; I break the day into morning and afternoon slots – the morning being longer as I have to navigate school runs, homework, clubs and dinner after 3pm.

But deciding which slot best suits my work or novel writing is only part of it. This challenge is about producing 50,000 words of the actual story. Part of reaching that goal for me, of writing words I can actually work with later, means also researching as I go, or playing with little bits of character exploration here and there, or offloading into the odd blog post about progress and process.

I need to write 50,000 words to succeed in this challenge. I want them to be good words which means I have to write more to make them good.

Wants and needs are funny things – and so entwined. Sometimes you can’t separate them. You just have to find space for both and it’s amazing what you can stuff into a day if you really want to.

So my first profound lesson learned from NaNoWriMo is this:

It’s not about how much space you think you don’t have, but what you do with it that counts.


About Sally Nursten

Writer. Mother. Lover of life and all its twisty-turny ways.
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4 Responses to NaNoWriMo – the trick is packing it all in

  1. Hi Sally
    I did NaNoWriMo last year and completed a 51,000 word Novel in 20 days. It was an absolutely gruelling slog, but I felt so good after it. I hope you stuck at it and completed. This year, not so much. I started late, then got sidetracked and found myself halfway through the month with about 7,000 words, so unfortunately I had to knock it on the head. Maybe next year.
    I was so chuffed when my book was printed, even though it was self published 😉

  2. Sally Morgan says:

    Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for the comment. I did complete the challenge, thanks, although the novel itself is far from complete. I reckon I’m half way to a first draft now. It’s definitely a good thing to do if you already have a well-baked idea I think; a good spring board for getting a new book off the ground. Congratulations on self-publishing your book. My first book was also self-pulished and I’ll do the same with this one. Very best of luck to you with your next project. Keep in touch!


    • Hey Sally
      Well done for completing. I have to admit that whilst I did my 51,000 words within the time, I didn’t actually finish getting the book ready until about 8 months later after a load of revisions. Also, your achievement this year was probably more stressfull than mine was last year as I work at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust as a Technical Author, and have to travel into London from the New Forest every day. That means I have 5 hours on the train to write, and hence why I shouldn’t have been scathing about self publishing considering I have already done it twice before already. Speaking of which I reckon a Psychic Detective Agency sounds interesting, so assuming it is available on Kindle Store, that’s where I will be heading next.


      • Sally Morgan says:

        Hi Kevin,

        Wow! 5 hours a day on a train to write – you lucky thing. I’ve often wondered who had the patience to write technical manuals and now I know. It’s Kevin Tye!

        Like you, I approached agents with The Psychic Detective Agency and had a few read the whole manuscript but then the communication just went cold. Very frustrating. Perhaps as a consequence, I’ve found self publishing extremely liberating.

        I’ve been writing in various roles – magazine and online journalist, PR, corporate copy writer – for thirteen years mainly as a freelancer. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to working for myself (it might be down to simple impatience!) that I’ve found I prefer to get on with publishing rather than follow the traditional, achingly slow route to a few square inches on a Waterstones shelf.

        Of course, one day, I’d like to see a book of mine in real, honest to God, print. Wouldn’t all writers really? But in the meantime, I think having an outlet for our stories, a real marketplace where people we don’t even know read them, which presses us to become more practical writers, better editors and self marketers is only a good thing.

        I hope you enjoy The Psychic Detective Agency. I’ve also had a ‘flick’ through the titles you have on your site. I look forward to having a proper read …


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