Write the Novel: a NaNoWriMo Workshop at the Amsterdam Writing Workshops

(Note: NaNoWriMo is the write a novel in a month challenge, you write 1,500-2,000 words a day for a month and at the end, ta-da, you have written a novel.)

Sofia: In the spirit of dispersing the demons of All Hallows Eve,  I went with Cecile to the NaNoWriMo workshop held at the Amsterdam Library on the 27th of November, which was given by the lovely people of the Amsterdam Writing Workshops.

It was great! I’ve been wanting to participate in NaNoWriMo for years. Every year I’m either too late, too early or have my priorities confused. But this year I’m definitely giving it a try.

Cecile: Like Sofia, I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo due to several reasons. Time being my major reoccurring problem and the word count being the runner up. How in the world am I suppose to write 50,000 words in just 30 days?

Sofia: We arrived early and we immediately noticed (talking to the people around us) that we were in the right place with all the expats, multilingual and intercultural writers writing in English.

Crash Course
This mini workshop was basically a crash course in NaNoWriMo. The speakers were Nico Janssen & Lisa Friedman. Nico gave a quick 30 minute talk on the highlights of NaNoWriMo. He was followed by Lisa who gave one of the most eloquent talks on Novel Writing I have come across.

Cecile: After the first 30 minutes I was already convinced that this year I’d be successful. Nico touched upon my major problems of time and word count. Who says you have to produce 50,000 words? The word count is not set in stone, turn it into a number that’s doable. And even if you don’t manage it, so what? It’s not a competition who’s the best in reaching the word count (okay – it is a bit). NaNoWriMo is all about the process. To experience what it’s like to be a writer all the time. Now that hit home. 

Sofia: Lisa proceeded to give a two and a half hour lecture (with two 5 minute breaks in between) on the construction of a novel. She analyzed the beginning, middle and end of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Grunberg’s Amuse-bouche and Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

Cecile: Working with these excerpts reminded me of my literature and creative writing classes. In neither of them did we do such simple but effective exercises. A shame really because it was quite helpful.

We did the exercises sequentially but Lisa reminded us that during November, we were free to write any part we like in the order we wished. The only advise she truly wished us to follow was not to read what you’ve written. Because self-criticism is most lethal for any creativity.

Sofia: I was entranced by the humor and skill she demonstrated in covering a large amount of info in so little time.

Cecile: Absolutely true. I was hardly aware of my cold and the fact that fresh air was scarce – despite the air vents in the room. Time flew by.

The Raffle
Sofia: The workshop was concluded with a round Q&A and a raffle, where three people won. The 1st prize was the chance to have 5 copies of their novel printed and bound in the book espresso machine [see pic, it doesn’t look like much, but if you are a writer it might be the single most thrilling experience you might have as it prints a ‘real’ book with cover and all, i.e. your own book]. The 2nd and 3rd prizes were 25 euros book-tokens to be spent in the Treehouse bookstore. Lucky people!

(Cecile: I thought it was a token specially meant to print your own book, the money would cover up the costs of uploading it to the espresso book machine?)

Sofia: I enjoyed the short exercise in free writing, starting with the prompt “She stands up in [blank]”. We had 3-5 minutes to write. Then Lisa said, “If you can do this in a room full of strangers you can definitely do this.” That was encouraging. It wasn’t necessarily the energy, or the prompt or the inspiration that helped me along but just the will to want to write using this prompt.

Cecile: Don’t stop and think. Don’t take you pen or pencil off the paper. These were the tips we received when we started writing with the prompt. Normally, I don’t do too well with these kinds of exercises but in a room full of writers, it worked. 

Sofia: Also the advice on how to write for NaNoWriMo: don’t look back. And  when starting a new day of writing, use the last line of the previous day and continue with that, or simply use the idea you had and continue writing from there.

Cecile: Lisa gave us 3 techniques:

  1. Copy the last sentence into a new document and start there the next day.
  2. Copy the last paragraph if that works better instead of just one sentence.
  3. Use a more psycho-analytical approach. Close your eyes and only continue with what you remember. A word, a sentence or just the concept.

Sofia: Attending this workshop gave me the little push I needed to start November as it should be started, with the NaNoWriMo challenge!

Cecile: We’ll present our experiences of NaNoWriMo at the beginning of December.

Cecile & Sofia


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