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.