November – Writing Month

With the National Novel Writing Month upon us, and Taunton Literary Festival starting 2nd November and running for two weeks, it looks like November is a month for writing.  Maybe, with the darker nights and the necessity of snuggling under a blanket in the warmest place in the house coming upon us, it really is a good time to tuck ourselves in and start a novel, or at least a new writing project.

Jenny’s  recent article, though, got me thinking.  How do you even start a novel without an idea?  How many people would even consider embarking on writing 50,000 words in 30 days?  Not just that, but 50,000 words which actually coalesce into something that can be construed as a novel.  I guess not everyone would approach such a marathon task in that way.  Some will have their novel mapped out, organised, ready to just be written.  Others will have at least an inkling of how it will go.

Deciding what your novel is about can be one of the easiest parts of the process, or one of the hardest.  For many writers, they get their inspiration and off they go.  Others have to mull it over, maybe for years, before they can see it as a story, something to write about.  But where does that initial idea come from?

The answer, of course, is literally anywhere.  The challenge is being able to recognise it.  I can only speak from personal experience, but for me, my muse has been; dreams, mishearing things in a conversation, hearing things grossly out of context, or even typos.

So I was wondering…  How about for other people?  Where have others got their ideas from?  It doesn’t have to be a novel, it can be a short story, or an article.  Has there ever been a moment when you’re caught completely off-guard, maybe mid-conversation, or as you wake up in the morning, or half-listening to the news on TV and thought,  ‘That would make a great story’?   Or maybe you just sat down one day and decided, ‘Today, I’m going to think up a story’ and just did it?

If you want to share that moment with us, add a comment below.


4 thoughts on “November – Writing Month

  1. I generally write with no plan. It’s rubbish. I’d love to write with a plan. It must be so much easier than the hair pulling I endure.

    I get my best ideas talking to Dave. He asks tough questions and sometimes I just blurt an answer to get him off my back. That’s how I found the dream library. But then dave just asked more questions I still haven’t completely answered.

    One character’s voice just came to me in a ryokan in Tokyo, early one morning. Mind games is the result of a Horizon documentary and the experience of waking up from general anaesthetic.

    Ideas come from anywhere. I just wish I had more of them, when I need them.


  2. Starting without an idea or plot is something I think every writer should try at some stage. Usually I have ideas, a basic plot, maybe even – I like to think – a theme or two. When I started NANOWRIMO without a plot I sort of hoped that things thing would develop naturally if I just wrote. They didn’t. Yet I still had 50,000 words of something at the end of the month. So what are you left without these things? Just characters. And their stuff. The things you make them do to keep the words coming. Their relationships with each other. Yes, there were links that came into focus, some parallels between the lives of the characters – most likely because they were invented by me and my singular experience of life – but definitely nothing so ambitious as a theme. But I’ve never cared about characters I’ve written as I did those, never felt so fully immersed in the writing process. Because the stuff, the unexciting, uninspired stuff that I wrote under pressure to fill the pages wasn’t a million miles away from stuff that people do to fill the days. It felt truer. It felt real to me. And when the fear of ‘nothing more- to do / say’ – mine and theirs – led the characters away from normality, into violence, deviance, despair it even felt shocking to me, real and exciting all at once. As a piece of writing it might be paceless, directionless, pointless. But it felt a lot less like that to me that some of the more plotted things I’ve done.
    This time I’m starting it in a bit more of a planned way, a bit more of the way I usually write. I’m starting with something I love. Last novel, it was skinny indie boys with hair and guitars. This novel, it’s about Bath, the feeling I get as I walk around its streets, when I’m filled with a yearning like no other: Georgian house lust. Bath Georgians are out of my league, obviously, even if there happened to be some wreck of a place priced for a quick sale. But it started me thinking – if that dream was all I had, and it was beyond the boundaries of likeliness but not possibility, what would I do to raise the money to buy a house I loved and turn it into my home? The love of bricks and mortar strikes me as every bit as all-encompassing as other more traditional literary love affairs. In my own life this year the ordinary act of doing some DIY has provided a reassuring sense of permanence during some scary times, has felt like fighting time’s decay and started me thinking about restoration with a capital R. It’s only the start of half an idea but maybe that’s enough.
    So my November novel will be working title Town House: A Restoration Novel. That’s all I know. It feels like a risk to take an idea that I actually like and approach it without giving it the planning it feels like it deserves. But I’m hoping to strike the balance between the excitement/realism of make-it-up-as-you-go-along novelling and the purpose and purity of an idea. So I’m not going to look it in the eye until November 1st.


    • There are some really deep observations there, Jenny. This process of writing completely free of ideas or, indeed, purpose is sometimes called automatic writing. It allows our deep sub-conscious the freedom to speak, and what emerges if often profound and even prophetic. No wonder, then, that you established such a strong connection with your characters – they are probably aspects of yourself which have been allowed into the light for a brief moment. Awesome!

      It makes me wonder if we should do some of this at one of our meetings, just a ten minute or so session of writing without really thinking about the words, just letting them come. It would be interesting to see what emerges. We can read out our efforts afterwards, or even post them on the blog. Or not.

      Here’s my interim effort…

      Words. What are words? Words are something that aren’t something that mean something…

      Okay, I’ll stop now.


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