A Writer’s Journey (Part One): A Journey of Fifty Thousand Words Begins with a Single Keystroke6 min read

by Aug 23, 2017Writing

Note from the Editor: A Writer's Journey is a series that follows writer Mark R. Hems as he weathers the challenging yet rewarding terrain of writing a novel. Series Posts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The Ordinary World

My writer’s journey, like every good hero’s journey, began in the ordinary world. In a gloomy office in Staines to be exact. There I sat like a galley slave, day after day, working my nine to five and dreaming of, well, being somewhere else. If you’ve seen the film Office Space – heck you may be living it – then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Every day the same old grind. Same old faces, same petty politics, same power plays.

I knew I didn’t belong in that world (do any of us?) but like everyone else I had bills to pay, a mortgage, commitments. And so I took a deep breath, bit my lip and buried my dreams deep down inside, stacked them one by one beside my pride.

The Call to Adventure

Writer's JourneyThen one day one of my co-workers, Fred, started talking gobbledygook over lunch.

“Nanowhatnow?” I said with my mouth full.

“Nanowrimo,” he corrected. “National Novel Writing Month. It’s like a competition where you have to write a novel in a month.”

Now that sounded like a whole lot of pain to me, but at the same time a tiny lightbulb went on in my brain and shone dimly through the cobwebs of my ambition. Maybe I could write something. In fact, hadn’t I always said I would, one day?

Refusal of the call

But a whole novel? In a month?

“Fifty thousand words” clarified Fred. “One thousand, six hundred and sixty-six words a day. For thirty days.”

Jesus, I thought, that sounds impossible.

“Reckon you could do it?” said Fred.

“Easy,” I replied and unwittingly committed myself to the competition.

Crossing the threshold

And so, on the first of November I returned home from work, powered on my computer and launched Microsoft word.

And stared at the white glare of an empty screen.

What the hell am I going to write? I thought. The screen continued to glare at me, offering little support. Maybe I could write a horror? Science fiction? Fantasy? But how could I come up with an idea good enough to carry me through a whole novel? I needed something I didn’t have to think about too much. Something that would, well, write itself.

Moment of Enlightenment

Then it dawned on me.

I didn’t need to invent realistic characters, exotic locations, exciting events, a captivating plot. I’d already experienced all those things – through living. I could simply draw from all the interesting events and experiences that had happened to me. Cherry pick the best characters, events, locations – throw them all together and, well, hope for the best.

And that’s what I did. Pretty much. You see, the great thing that happens when you write is that, as long as you’re writing something your brain is forced to think, forced to make decisions about how a character will react in a given situation, or how that situation arose in the first place. And as long as you keep pushing yourself, the story really does start to write itself. The most important thing is just to start filling that white space. Doesn’t matter what you fill it with. Just fill it.

Nanowrimo’s great for that – getting you to fill the page. When you have a word target that you have to reach every day, it’s all about getting those words out. And, though many of them might be strung together as artfully as a pack of Walls sausages, some of them might actually be quite good. With a bit of work.

And so, with little time to spare, a hastily constructed plan, a wing and a prayer, I tapped away on my keyboard on that first night until I had those precious sixteen hundred and sixty-six words.

It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was a start.

A new hope

And that’s how my writer’s journey began. But there’s a whole lot more to this story. Over the next few months I’ll tell you the rest and maybe we can compare war wounds, share those moments of epiphany and elation where plot pieces finally fell into place, commiserate over the characters that just wouldn’t do our bidding. And hopefully, through those shared experiences we can help one another to become better writers.

How did your writer’s journey begin? Let me know in the comments below.

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