STUDENT BLOG: My novel lockdown challenge

An RGS sixth former urges us all to pick up our pens in lockdown: 'Everyone has a story worth telling,' says GRACE STROER-JARVIS, who describes how she took on the challenge of writing her first novel in 30 days

EVERY year on October 31, 550,000 authors stay up until midnight. But why? Is it because they’re raiding their children’s Halloween candy haul? (maybe).

It’s because the first day of November marks the beginning of an international writing competition called National Novel Writing Month, or more simply NaNoWriMo. The challenge is simple, write 50,000 new words in the month of November.

NaNoWriMo is a charity based in the USA which raises money every year in order to provide writing assistance to schools and individuals for free. Or, in their words, ‘to help people find their voices and build new worlds on and off the page’.

The competition started in 1999 with 21 participants and has grown into a very broad internet community of writers from everywhere from Argentina to Vietnam.

There are a few rules, most of them are pretty self-explanatory like ‘don’t plagiarise’ but the most challenging is to finish the 50,000 words.

50,000 words in 30 days averages out to a daily word count of 1,677 words. This sounds like a small total but in actuality can take about two to three hours every day on top of your daily workload (in my case a seven-hour school day and about an hour of homework at home).

So, why do people do NaNoWriMo? The real question is why do we do anything extracurricular if we know it will cut into our oh-so important rest and relaxation time?

For creatives the answer is easy. Undertaking NaNoWriMo forces you to sit down and write every day, to lock away your inner critic and create something new, regardless of how bad you think it is during your first draft.

Personally, I completed my 50,000 words, with no small effort. The first 15 days were easy, I had solid plot ideas and I had planned in late October. But around the middle mark the pace started slowing and being creative got harder, I started missing out days and the word count I needed to make up the difference got up to about 10,000.

It wasn’t until around the final week-and-a-half where I realised that I actually enjoyed writing that I was willing to sacrifice more of my time than I had initially expected to reach my goal.

In retrospect I am glad I did. I wrote about 7,000 words on the November 30, which was a school day, and the feeling of finally entering my finished word count (50,012) was definitely worth what I did to reach it.

I’ve been asked whether I’d considering publishing, and I won’t lie, it’s a first draft and it is truly terrible. It’s written in at least three different tenses, every character has a filler name, and I’m not entirely sure what its actually about anymore. But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

After a lot of editing and some more ambitious goals, maybe. It’s one thing to create something for yourself and another thing entirely to offer it up for everyone to read and personally, I do not think I’m a good enough writer…


My Project started as an idea of exploring how science and religion have both impacted the world through fiction and ended as a story of a grim reaper like character, Lilium (whose name comes from the Latin for lily, a flower typically used to symbolise peaceful death), who struggles to take responsibility for how their neglect has also contributed to the destruction of the world.

I have a lot of books on writing to read before I even want to touch the beast that is my NaNoWriMo novel again. But I am still glad I did it. My very rudimentary ‘novel’ brings me more joy and confidence than if I had never had the bravery to write it at all.

The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not for already established writers to smash out 50,000 words with their tried-and-true methods, although they do participate. (Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern were once NaNoWriMo projects and are now very good reads.)

NaNoWriMo is for the ordinary people of this world, the teachers, the plumbers, and the shopkeepers, (and you!), to leave at the end of November with a rudimentary first draft of their own novel and the notion that writing is not for the elite few on New York Times Best Seller lists, and that everyone with the bravery to put pen to paper is an author. Or fingers on a keyboard, in my case. I find my brain moves much faster than I can write with a pen.

So, while you sit bored out of your mind in the endless confusing stretch that is lockdown, I urge you to be creative in your free time instead of mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram explore feed. And instead to believe in the transformative power of writing, or drawing, or singing.

I challenge you to pick up your pen this lockdown. Everyone has a story worth telling, I hope you find the courage to share yours.