JP Flintoff

Only 50,000 words to go...

By John-Paul Flintoff

Two weeks ago, I sent a message to a senior newspaper editor I’ve written for several times:

Dear N___

Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road in three weeks. Dostoyevski wrote The Gambler in less than a month. My first (so far, only) published novel took me 16 years.

So I’m going to write the next one in a month, during November, as part of NaNoWriMo.

It’s an American idea that has already seen some 400,000+ authors crank out a first draft in a month. Some went on to be published properly.

Would you like a story about the NaNoWriMo phenomenon – about how it feels to crank out 1,700 words a day, about the live get-togethers with other would-be authors, and the various forums for online mutual encouragement (possibly quite embarrassing)?

I’ve published five books, in 16 languages. So far as I can tell, no other published author has dared to do NaNoWriMo and written about the experience for a paper. It feels quite exposing.

A handful of people have written cynically about NaNoWriMo, mostly for US publications, arguing that it generates lots of crappy books that nobody will want to read – literary agents are flooded with crummy manuscripts in December, apparently.

Well, I also teach writing – I’ll be teaching a week-long residential course next week – and I know that lots of people who come will never be published.

But I’ve seen them get a huge amount from putting their ideas into words for the first time.

I’m sure that lots of your readers must like the idea of writing a novel one day – and if they start next week, they can.

Ideally I’d like to write something beforehand, then write a daily blog post throughout November, and possibly a short follow-up afterwards.

What do you think?

She replied quickly:

Hi john-Paul
Doesn’t grab me tbh…

Tweaking my pitch a little, to make it brighter and less worthy, I sent it to a magazine editor I hadn’t met, on a magazine I used to work for. She too replied quickly:

Hi John-Paul,

Thank you for the email — I know your name, of course but good to hear from you.

I’m afraid we’re in a slightly ridiculous deadline situation for November/early Dec and all our issues are already closed/full so I’m going to have to pass in this instance.

But do pitch me again.

All the best, A___

So I sent it to a senior editor on a literary journal:

Dear P___ (I wrote)

About 4,000 year ago, we met each other at a party thrown by R___ C___.

We discovered that we both once knew M___ M___ (no relation), who was at that time selling his services as a sex coach, but had previously taught me a specimen of fiercely competitive yoga (“check out this guy’s back bends!”).

I may also have mentioned to you, at that dinner, that the first thing I ever had published was a letter to the L____, when I was about 18, about people who have had big ideas in the bathroom, from Archimedes onwards. I felt terrifically proud.

If you don’t remember any of this, that may not be a bad thing.

I should perhaps have started this email by saying that I have been a feature writer for most of my career, at the Financial Times magazine, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, The Times and blah blah blah. I’ve also published five books, in 16 languages.

One, the last, was a novel.

This November, I’m going to write the whole first draft of the sequel as part of NaNoWriMo, the annual, month-long extravaganza, originally American in concept, during which hundreds of thousands set out to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and about 10% claim to have achieved it.

Many went on to self-publish. Others have been published “properly”, and even become best-sellers.

Not everybody (vast understatement) will produce a work of genius. But Dostoyevsky knocked out The Gambler in less than a month, and Kerouac typed On The Road even faster.

I’d love to write something about the experience of joining this movement: the perhaps slightly embarrassing get-togethers, online and in person; the pain of cranking out 1700ish words every day.

Among other things to consider is the dread that falls upon eg literary agents in December when thousands of shortish manuscripts arrive in the post.

Have you ever run anything about this? Do you think you might like to?

His reply was friendly – he not only remembered our conversation but also elaborated on it. But his editor didn’t bite, he said. Perhaps to protect my feelings, he added that at this late notice all relevant slots had been taken.

So I’m going ahead anyway. I’ve started writing. I’m well behind on my daily target. But I’ll try to catch up. And as I write, I’ll share some ideas about storytelling.

Posted: November 6, 2018

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