I am delighted to be interviewing a ‘Newbie’ writer, Sally Bridgewater, this month. November is the month when many eager writers embark on the challenge of creating 50,000 words in thirty days as they join the NaNoWriMo challenge. Sally has taken this to the extreme and decided to try writing them in one day.
Where, when and why did you develop the idea of attempting this personal challenge of moving from ‘Newbie to novelist’ within 24 hours?
Since graduating a couple of years ago I have supposedly been focusing on becoming an author, but distractions (like bills) keep getting in the way. I was getting quite frustrated at not having finished a story yet (apart from one short-ish one here), and never finishing any stage of my goal was really drain my enthusiasm. So actually my primary purpose is to go from Newbie to Novelist in 30 days, and get to ‘The End’ no matter how many words it takes. I added the extra #50Kinaday Wordathon part of the challenge when I stumbled across this podcast from Matt Ahlschlager back in March or April sometime. He makes it sound simple, even quite easy to take on NaNo in a day. I remember I was walking the dog down by our local canal while listening to it, and I could feel the idea of doing it myself getting lodged in my mind. I think I want to do it mainly because it is a neat way to make sure I get a lot of words down on my way to the full first draft. Also, I like turning my life into ‘events’ that I can share with my friends and family, and this one gets particularly fun reactions from people.
This is the equivalent of a writing marathon. How have you prepared for the event physically and for your novel?
Physically speaking, I am just trying to keep myself well and avoid getting too stressed out about it. I could do better though – I often stay up late, I don’t eat enough fruit and I don’t do much exercise, so avoiding the autumn sniffles so far has been mostly luck.
I have been ‘in training’ of a sort over the last few days by trying out a standing desk (I made it myself with two boxes under my laptop and a pile of Writing Magazines under my keyboard). It will definitely help me avoid bad posture if I’m not sitting for the whole day.
Of course, I have also become quite obsessed with my typing speed, and whether I can concentrate for twenty-four hours straight. I don’t know how much direct practice I can do for those things though; I am just going to wait and see. At least I have past experience of working fast when I was writing weekly last-minute essays during my degree.
I have been busy (some might say distracted) preparing the online infrastructure, such as my website and my Facebook page, in time for November. Because of this I have not yet started the plotting for my novel, and at the time of writing there are only 7 days left before it all starts! I have a colleague at work called Tina who has started chanting ‘Plot! Plot! Plot!’ whenever she sees me – I think she’s quite concerned… I work quite well under pressure though so I’m hoping one week is long enough to plan a novel, right?
Have you ever completed the NaNoWriMo challenge before?
Yes, I have ‘won’ (got to the 50,000 word mark) NaNoWriMo for the last two years. I also did Camp NaNoWriMo in July (it is the same concept but less difficult as you can set your own wordcount goal). It really helped me to start writing again. I had heard about it during my degree but didn’t have time to try it, so I promised myself I would do it when I graduated. Both years I worked on a novel about a deaf girl and a Romani boy (they are both prodigies: the boy for music and the girl for mazes). I will finish that novel one day, but I wanted to go with something fresh for this year’s challenge.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, November 2013, I got as involved as I could with the community, looking around the forums, visiting my local ‘Come Write In’ group each Saturday, and signing up to have a NaNo veteran mentor. I happened to get one of the kindest people on the planet as my mentor, I am sure of it – they even posted me a handmade care package from America, including knitted fingerless gloves and a little jar of coffee. For NaNoWriMo 2016, my fourth, I won’t try and do anything like this Newbie to Novelist challenge again. Instead I will put my experience to some use and take on a couple of mentees myself. My goal is to go above and beyond to encourage them, like my mentor did.
You obviously love writing and reading. Which is your favourite genre to work in?
I’m not sure I know what my favourite genre is to write in, as I have barely started exploring different ones. The story I worked on before for NaNo was a historical adventure set in a slightly-alternative French Revolution; the one I am planning now is science fiction, set in the far future on a different planet. I don’t actually feel qualified to tackle either of those genres, and they are not what I mostly read – they just came out of whatever ideas I had at the time.
I read very widely and in fact I would say that I am addicted to novels. Many a time I read for hours when I should be doing other things, like sleeping. Looking at my bookshelf I can see a lot of fantasy in particular – Game of Thrones, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – and some steampunk sci-fi (the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve). There’s a lot of my old favourites from growing up. I don’t think I am particularly original in my tastes, I absolutely adore Harry Potter and I even have all the Twilight books (I know they are very problematic, but I was exactly the right age of teenage girl when they first came out…).
Where did your love of writing begin?
I definitely have my parents to thank for giving me a love of reading and writing. They put in hours of extra work with me outside of school when I was really young to teach me how to understand written language (I remember jumping from word to word on pieces of paper across the floor of the living room). They also read bedtime stories every night for my whole childhood, and when my sister and I got ‘too old’ for such things, we started reading books aloud to our parents instead, or as a family. I still do read aloud with my boyfriend – it is a really good way of sharing a story with someone. I feel that the best characters from those early bedtime stories have stayed with me. For instance, to this day I consider Matilda from Roald Dahl to be a role model (and Tim Minchin’s adaptation as a musical is brilliant too).
Wanting to be an illustrator and an author are the earliest ambitions I can remember. I wrote a lot of story fragments from being very young (some got saved from our ancient PC and I still have them). When I was 12 my sister turned 10 years’ old and I wrote her a toy-sized trilogy about her stuffed Panda going on an adventure with our hamster across the globe. And when I was in high school and not having a great time (some bullying and so on), I would sometimes spend my break times scribbling in a notebook in the toilets. In the only detention I ever had (I was what one calls a ‘swot’) the headmaster set us to writing a story as punishment, and I couldn’t believe I was being told I could sit and just do my favourite thing for an hour. I was very busy practising my musical instruments usually though (I play violin and piano) so I didn’t make time for it properly until NaNoWriMo 2013.
How supportive are people being of your challenge?
I almost feel a bit silly telling people, because everybody does a double-take when I say how many words I am aiming to write in my Wordathon. Then they usually doubt whether such a thing is even possible, and finally express at least some degree of concern about me undertaking such a thing. I am glad I am getting people interested, but I didn’t want to alarm anyone!
I have had some lovely responses when I have asked for help with the project. I still haven’t done that enough though – apparently I just don’t have a knack for delegation. So if anyone can see a way that they could get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is next for Sally both with your writing and in your career?
Well, after getting this first draft under my belt, I want to leave it for a bit and then come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes in 2016 and edit it. I guess in the long run I want to find myself an agent and look at getting published, but I’m not expecting my first novel to be good enough to do that.
In the meantime, I won’t just be waiting around idly for luck and traditional publishing methods to find me. I am hoping to build up support for my writing by using the crowd-funding platform Patreon. I am still figuring out how to run my own blog, so it will take me a while to discover the best way to self-publish, but if I go that route then I want to make a proper go of it.
I also have plans for my parallel career dream: setting up a social enterprise company to build a website of tools and resources to help people use their brains better. I call it ‘Think Sharp.’ It is going to be my attempt at improving the world, but I will only really have time to think about getting started on it in the New Year after I’ve done this!
Thank you for taking the time to share your ambitions with me. I wish you every success in achieving your goal on the day, but more than that in your literary ambitions over a longer and perhaps more sustainable writing career.
Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Val. I really appreciate it.