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Trish Smith: NaNoWriMo and a new novel

Beatrice Smith

 This year we are going to try something new, though it’s an old-fashioned concept.

We are going to serialise a novel, publishing a few chapters each week over the summer break. The novel is called Love Your Work and it was written by Trish Smith, a born and bred Canberra girl and first-time novelist who you may also know as the creator and founder of Airpocket. She wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – a literary free-for-all held every November, where budding writers sign up for the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

We chatted to Trish to find out about NaNoWriMo, and where she got the inspiration to write her first novel.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is a month-long writing frenzy, where participants spend the month of November hacking away at their keyboards until they have 50,000 words of the novel they’ve been promising themselves that they would one day write. It’s a fantastic challenge that values quantity over quality, and thousands of people do it. Last year, there were 384,126 participants from all over the world.

Where did you first hear about it and what motivated you to take part?

The first time I attempted NaNoWriMo was in 2008 – I can’t remember where I’d heard about it, but it obviously grabbed my attention because I immediately signed up! 50,000 words in 30 days is 1667 words per day;  I can type at about 75 words per minute, so I figured if I spent an hour a day at my computer after the kids were in bed I could easily smash out a novel. My optimism and confidence were both sorely misplaced.

How did you find it once you started?

Really difficult! I recently logged back into my profile on the NaNoWriMo homepage and saw that I had called that first novel “Untitled Pathetic Attempt”. I wrote 2000 words and quit. I had another crack in 2009, with “First Crappy Draft” and according to the description, I lost interest in my own story and stopped writing at 20,000 words.

But I was back again in 2010 and that year my novel – given the working title “Plan C” – reached 50,000 words. But I’d only told half the story, so I waited an entire year until NaNoWriMo 2011 and added another 50,000 words, and finished it (I work much more efficiently with a deadline, it would seem). I spent 2012 tweaking and rewriting before having it professionally edited. I printed out a couple of copies on A4 paper and then sat them on a shelf and went off and started a small business.

What were the biggest challenges?

One of the hardest parts for me was writing without knowing where the story was headed. I think I struggled during those first couple of attempts because I was flying blind – I didn’t have an idea for a story when I sat down to write. It wasn’t until the third attempt that I had a rough outline and an underlying theme that I wanted to explore.

What is your advice to anyone taking part in NaNoWriMo 2017?

Make a plan! That blank page on day one is daunting enough without knowing what you’re going to write about. Google “Randy Ingermanson the Snowflake Method” for a terrific technique for producing a plan for your novel (it worked for me). And read all the advice and guidance on the NaNoWriMo site – they’re the experts.

Where did you find the inspiration for Love Your Work? Did you start writing it/thinking about it before NaNoWriMo?

I did a short course in creative writing years and years ago, and one of many pieces of good advice from the tutor was to “write what you know.” So, I guess it’s inevitable that I would write a story about someone who works in recruitment because that’s what I used to do.

One day, I was asked to provide constructive feedback to several unsuccessful candidates, and I spoke with a young guy who lamented the fact that he’d been so nervous that he’d forgotten all the things he had wanted to say, and it bothered him that the people on the panel would have assessed his suitability for that job based on that half hour he’d been in the room. And that got me thinking about how other people’s opinions of us might be based on a distorted glimpse into our lives, and yet they can have such an impact on what happens to us and how we feel about ourselves.

Love Your Work LYW cover

What was your favourite part of writing LYW?

The writing process itself is really exciting. I can type about as fast as people talk in normal conversation, and I don’t have to look at the keyboard (thanks, Belconnen High School Year 9 Typing Class!). So, when I’m in the zone, it’s as though I’m watching a movie that I have never seen before, and as the characters move about on the screen and talk to each other I just sit there and write down everything that’s happening.

Although I have a rough plan for the whole story, I don’t know the details, and so I’m as surprised as anyone – and this was my favourite part of writing this book – when a new character suddenly turns up and says that outrageous thing that sets the main character on the path to the next plot point. And you’re wondering “where the hell did you come from?” That might all sound a bit weird, but I’ve talked to several writers and it’s the same for them.

Elizabeth Gilbert gave a fantastic TED Talk about this, she called it ‘your elusive creative genius’. I’m not sure I’d call my thing a creative genius, but I love how she described the way a story can come to you when you open yourself up to it. And I think that’s what NaNoWriMo does – it puts you in the seat, at your computer, and makes you sit there and be open to receiving some inspiration.

What do you hope readers ‘get out of’ reading Love Your Work?

Mostly I just hope they enjoy the story and look forward to getting the next instalment each week. And if they read my story and think to themselves “I could totally write something like that” (and who hasn’t thought that about a book at some point?) then I hope they sign up for NaNoWriMo and give it a shot, because it really is a lot of fun.

Can you describe Love Your Work in around 100 words?

Abby Lucas is a recruitment consultant who writes a fly-on-the-wall anonymous blog about her work and her life. But when she finds herself simultaneously dumped from her job and teetering on the edge of marital disaster, her blog becomes a therapist’s couch and her blog readers start weighing in with their own opinions about the job, and the life, that she ought to be trying to get.

But they don’t know the whole story, and sometimes Abby doesn’t either, so acting on that advice could have dire consequences. In job interviews, as in life, how much do we allow somebody else’s opinion of us to determine our fate?

Stay tuned for our summer serial, kicking off in December.  

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people – sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies.

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