November has been an intense month for playwright and TBI writer Courtney Rose Brown.
Amongst her full time job, storywriting side hustles, a huge personal medical development and her first brush with COVID - she also took on the challenge of writing a 50,000 novel in 30 days.
Week four started off very differently from the first three.
Partway through my working day on Monday, I get a text from my lovely partner telling me she has COVID. I rushed to do a quick supermarket shop and get our supplies ready. I got home and tested negative. Since my partner and I live together in a tiny apartment, it’s likely I’ll get COVID any day now.
We had been part of the group of people who had managed to escape COVID this year, half hoping we were immune and are only now just first experiencing it. I’ve seen COVID take away energy and focus and time, so naturally, my first thought was ‘oh no, my novel!!!!’ Although I was upset about the possibility of not finishing, it was rather nice to be able to have the thought ‘oh no, my novel!!!!’ at all.
I have now passed the big hurdle of getting down to a single-digit countdown to my last day. I hoped to get a lot of bonus writing done after the news, but as my cough developed, I felt my energy levels drop.
I’m able to hit my word target for Tuesday but can feel the focus and flow of thoughts struggle within me, as I have to start the possibility of thinking that, maybe, I’m not going to reach my 50k word target at the end of November. But I’ve got to take it one day at a time.
I feel as if tomorrow I will test positive and after eating half a bag of corn chips, I find my second wind and write an extra 500 words for the day, thankful that I’m able to add more words to my word bank on a day that isn’t as easy as today was.
On Tuesday, my goal was to hit at least 40k words and try to wrap things up. Anything more than that would be great, and I’d love to leave this draft of this novel behind in November if I can.
It was a good idea to set my expectations at the beginning of COVID especially after seeing how knocked out my partner became. Since she had it first, it gave a good amount of leeway so I could look after her before I got really hit. Unfortunately, there were a few days when neither of us could really stand or look after the other person.
I know that everyone has a different experience with COVID, and I’ll tell ya, the people who say ‘it’s just like a little runny nose, it’s nothing’ really are the loudest voices. For me and my partner, it was like a cold, but a cold that sucks out your ability to stand, takes out the energy to do the dishes and shower afterwards, and you can’t laugh for very long because then you can’t breathe and not in a fun way.
I got a PCR because I was feeling awful and the RATs weren’t returning negatives. The ten-minute walk to and from the testing station took me out for the whole morning. Our biggest blessing was Te Pou Manaaki - they dropped off food and medical supplies and I honestly don’t know where we would have been without them. They had asked how many people lived with me and I said it was just the two of us. They dropped off so much food that we just unpacked the bags, looked at them and sobbed. To have support from your community when you’re unwell and isolated, just meant the world.
Thankfully throughout each day, I get a little bit of energy and am able to write a few hundred words at a time, and was able to reach my word count every day, which meant that I was well past my 40k word backup plan target. I don’t know if any of those words made sense - as for most of the week, I hadn’t really been able to hold a thought or much of a conversation.
One thing that had been eating away at the back of my mind was that I was meant to have my surgery on the 5th of December, and figured I should tell them I have COVID just in case. They let me know that my surgery would have to be delayed due to the risk of infection, and that probably was the toughest part of it all.
Week five started off terribly. I got confirmation of my new surgery date and it was two months out. To be one week off getting my surgery that could drastically improve my life and have that taken from me was devastating. I sobbed until I couldn’t breathe, then had to forget about it because I had spent most of my day’s energy already just crying.
So I didn’t hit my word count that day, I got some words in, but that was all I could do and I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it when COVID was already doing quite the job for me.
I didn’t realise how worried I’d be in the final week of writing.
There were only three days left in November and I’d have to tie up my story somehow so that it was completed. The funny thing about writing close to 50k words in a novel that you didn’t plan is that it doesn’t feel long enough to complete the story. If you had told me that at the beginning of the month, I would have laughed. I didn’t think I would be able to stretch it out this far and to be like ‘how am I going to tie it up in so few words’ now is baffling.
Lucky for me, as someone who currently isn’t able to get out of the shower without being breathless, I just moved around some scenes, expanded on some old things I’d written and quickly came up with the end. Mainly because I really wanted to write ‘The End’ on the bottom of the page and really feel the accomplishment of it all.
As a writer, it is very difficult when you know your work isn’t your best and not to edit when you write and just keep going. I haven’t read over much of what I’ve written, and maybe I’ll do that sometime over the summer break to see what I pumped out in November.
It was quite an interesting experiment putting myself back in the shoes of a 16-year-old in the early 2000s. Some of it was quite fun, but then I’d remember small things that used to be part of my everyday, like everyone calling things gay that they didn’t like, ‘a moment on the lips forever on the hips’, sexism etc.
But most importantly...
I did it! I wrote a novel!! It’s 50,553 words long, would take 3 hours 10 minutes and 43 seconds to read, and would be about 168 pages long. It may be shit, cringy and boring but I’m so proud that I was able to stick with it and hit that 50K word count. Did I do a little dance that ended in a coughing fit? Yes. Was it worth it? Heck yes!
I’m looking forward to doing some more reading, writing little things here and there over December and to start dreaming up what my next novel will be - one where I can plan out a plot and characters and don’t have to fit into a month.
I don’t think I’ll do the National Novel Writing Month challenge again, but I absolutely recommend that if you too would love to say that you’ve written a novel, or you’ve got a story that you want to be told to go for it!
Don’t expect to see this novel on bookshelves anytime soon but if any NZ publishers are out there looking for someone who can meet a tight deadline - I’m your girl!