The ridiculous writing challenge

A friend asked me a while ago whether I’d heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s an international event that involves writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in the month of November. I’ve thought about doing it many times, and have always concluded that I’m too busy. I told her I was familiar with it, and she said she thought we should do it. My initial reaction was to protest that I had cancer and a newborn, but both of those things were true for her too, so I said I’d think about it.

It was a truly ridiculous idea, given the circumstances. I quite regularly have meltdowns where I cry on Paul’s shoulder about not being able to cope with it all; the cancer, the toddler, the baby, the poorly sister, the much-too-crowded life. I ran the idea past him and I saw the fear in his eyes. More meltdowns. Less sleep. And the constant tap tap tapping of my fingers on the keyboard when he’s trying to relax in the evenings. He told me not to put too much pressure on myself. And I knew it was good advice.

I decided I wouldn’t do it. I could always do it next year, couldn’t I? I’ve written two novels in the past, and each one took me a good eighteen months or so to get down on paper, so I knew what was involved. But then, every now and again, my brain would go back to it, and remind me that it would be a pretty incredible achievement, and a way to make something good out of this dreadful year. To make it the year I had Elodie and wrote a novel in a month, rather than just the year I had cancer and my sister had a stroke.

On Halloween, the final day of deliberation, I decided to give it a try. I don’t like saying I’m going to do something and then not managing to do it (which is why it took me so many years to give up smoking), so I was nervous. And it’s been really tough, so far, but I’m pretty stubborn. Some evenings, I’ve sat down to write my daily words after the kids have gone to bed and we’ve cooked and eaten dinner, and I haven’t been able to keep my eyes open for long enough to get through them. Some days, I’ve glanced over what I wrote the day before and not recognised any of it. Redrafting is going to be interesting (perhaps I’ll do that in January).

My decision to take on the challenge was so last-minute that I didn’t have time to think much about plot. So I decided to take the age-old advice and write about what I know: cancer. My novel is provisionally titled I Wanted You To Know, and it’s told in letters between a mother and daughter who both do battle with breast cancer as young women.

Because this is a huge challenge for me, and because I’ll never run a marathon, I’m taking the opportunity to try to raise some money for Mummy’s Star, a charity which supported me following my diagnosis. If you can spare the cash, I’d be so grateful if you’d sponsor me. I’m in the final few days and I know this will give me the push I need to complete it on time. And please feel free to share this post far and wide, too. Thank you.

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