The week of sounding like the Godfather is coming to an end – thank you laryngitis! Having recently returned from a trip, I am finally getting into the flow of being back in Oxford. Part of this seems to involve taking careful stock of the work that needs doing in the next few weeks and adding on another massive project.

Present-Saher loves making life difficult for Future-Saher. Because Future-Saher will always have her life more together than is possible. Last October I decided to take on NaNoWriMo. For detailed information on what that is, click HERE. In brief, people around the world come together to write a 50,000-word book in a month. I had always thought about giving this a go, but never had the stones to actually do it. It is always easier to keep fantasizing about something until all the steam eventually fizzles out.

November 2017 was a difficult month for me – I was on three projects at the same time, worrying about visa issues, potentially moving between countries, trying to find a place to live at short notice, and frantically applying for jobs that I had no hope of getting. So naturally committing to NaNo was an easy thing to do. I had thought that with sufficient discipline, it would be a fairly doable task. And the most important thing would be to see if I could even do it. If the story I had in mind didn’t have a life, I was very content to let it die a quiet death in Scrivener. I would then definitely be able to move on with life knowing I had given it a solid go.

I was very good for the first 10 or so days. I was hitting the minimum daily word limit, working after work on my ‘travel laptop’ (a glorified tablet, it makes procrastination through multi-tasking nearly impossible), and feeling pretty good about the narrative development. I had a greater appreciation for the work I did for my job, and valued the different intellectual muscles needed to make it all work. I must say that I could hear my brain creaking a few times under the general stress of asking it to do things it wasn’t used to.

And then the unthinkable (but highly probable) happened. I had fizzled out. It had been a very rough week with everything important happening at work at the same time. I had barely written 300 words. I was marking off the days no ‘no-writing’ religiously – always making sure I kept track of the new minimum daily word count, once I actually got back to it. Serious internal conversations of throwing in the towel were had. I had only told two friends that I was doing this, so the potential of embarrassment was low. One of these friends is a novelist. I was barely a functioning person. It could all work out.

And then exactly 5 days before, something seemed to crack. Part of it was moving over a critical hurdle in one of the work-projects. And then other part of it was having a friend say ‘yes, you can live at our flat temporarily’. Potential homelessness averted and creative-thinking brain cells in the brain kicked into action, I charted out the future of the story. I had about 30,000 words left to do in 5 days. Reflecting on my DPhil days, I knew that writing 10,000 words a day was very possible. Of course, they wouldn’t be the best words that have been strung together, but it could be done. And NaNo was far less demanding in terms of quality than my DPhil supervisor. And so naturally again, having decided to do take this very stupid course of action, I did nothing that day and went for dinner with friends.

The last four days were rather epic. In a terrifying, hand-cramping, brain-melting, and why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself sort of way. My word counts (rounded off to the nearest hundredth) for those days were: 11,900, 8500, and 11200. And then it was done. It was a completed story with a ‘The End’. Is it a good story? Definitely not. It may one day be a very nice short story once I have taken a hatchet and a flame thrower to it. It definitely wasn’t a failure and I am very glad I did it. If for no other reason than occasionally daydreaming about how lovely a life as a novelist would be when I throw away my academic aspirations. I have found that I enjoy writing and thinking through stories, and that even the frantic adrenaline and horror fuelled journey of my first NaNo was rewarding and fun. I have found that I will never be a novelist, and this is okay. I have found that I will still write for every short story competition I can find. And with that, a shameless plug – I got an ‘Honourable Mention’ for The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction 2018! I have found that writing a short story is more difficult than writing an academic paper. I have found that no matter how many times I reread stories by Stephen King, Alastair Reynolds, Frank Herbert, and Iaian Banks, I will always love them and keep trying to see how I can reach that level of literary excellence.

And now I’ve signed up to go through it all over again. Work is going to be just as difficult, but now thankfully I am just on two projects, with incredible teams to help me out, and fewer problems than last year. I still must worry about visa issues and potentially moving countries. But all in all, not too bad.

The demented look you get when you have pulled your first all-nighter since 2010 and realized you are definitely too old for this sort of thing now.

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