Harlequin Presents Author, Amanda Cinelli’s NaNoWriMo Experience

Can you imagine writing an entire novel in thirty days?

Right now, around the world, writers from all walks of life are gearing up for an online creative community project called National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, for short. If you’ve ever been puzzled as to why your writer friends are all frantically tweeting about #nanosprints every November or posting proud pictures of their little blue progress graph, I’m here to set the record straight.

The task, simply put, is to complete a fifty thousand word novel between November 1st and 30th. Easy peasy, right?

If you are staring at your computer screen right now in complete disbelief, I get it. That’s exactly how I felt too, the first time I participated ten years ago. I had never written anything longer than an essay before but I knew I really wanted to write a book. I had a fun idea for a story about a nanny and an Irish-Italian restaurateur but every time I sat down to start, I’d talk myself out of it. People say the hardest part of writing a book is getting started, but for me the true challenge was staying on task and reaching the end.

By the end of my first NaNoWriMo, I had shocked myself by finally completing my goal and finishing my first novel. The story was terrible, as most first attempts at novels are, but the experience was one I will always credit to having gotten me on the path to publication. You see, all of a sudden I wasn’t just alone in my living room, typing out my crazy stories. Suddenly I was part of a community. All over the world there were other writers, from all genres and levels of career, all just trying to get words down onto the page just like me.

It was through the Nano romance community that I first found out how to start targeting my stories towards Harlequin. It was my gateway to becoming a published writer and much more recently it became my unexpected saviour.

After I had my third child in summer 2018, I hit a major writing block. I was out of contract and frozen in uncertainty about my writing future. I was at home with my newborn, juggling school runs and home-life while also trudging along with a new story idea that I just couldn’t connect with.

Pretty soon my mental health was suffering, the words stopped coming and I became frozen with self doubt. It seemed the more I panicked over not being able to finish my manuscript, the more blocked and hopeless I became. At one point I tearfully discussed quitting writing altogether with my husband.

Then one night in October 2019, I was lying in bed, tears still drying on my splotchy face when an email arrived from NaNoWriMo HQ reminding me that November was coming up fast. The timing could not have been more perfect. Initially, in my pessimistic state, I came up with every reason why I shouldn’t put myself under the pressure of such an intense month. But then I asked myself…why not?

I knew I had a decision to make. I could continue to bang my head off the proverbial wall of my half-finished manuscript forever or I could jumpstart my creative brain with something brand new. I’d had a project in the back of my mind for a long time since I wrote my second book, The Secret To Marrying Marchesi. The hero of that book had a wild younger brother named Valerio who was the owner of a luxury yacht charter empire. The idea of being able to revisit some old characters and create something brand new and exciting spurred me on and so, on the 1st of November 2019 I sat down and began writing.

What began as a simple idea for an enemies to lovers/ engagement of convenience seemed to grow roots and take on a life of its own. This version of Valerio Marchesi was much changed from the playboy who I had briefly written before. This man was dark and tortured by a traumatic event that had killed his best friend and bound by his duty to marry the one woman he had coveted from afar but could never touch. I cried as I wrote the scenes where he grapples with his survivors guilt.

My heroine Daniela Avelar flowed from my fingers onto the page, fully formed with all of her curvy girl confidence and calmly contained grief for her dead brother as she battled to pull Valerio back to his duty. The story became a catharsis for all of my own frustration and grief as I threw myself into pushing these two people together into an impossible situation and watching them fall in love.

It also helped that I set the story between glamorous Monte Carlo and the stunning Caribbean paradise of St Lucia. As the gloomy Irish winter loomed outside my window in real life, I escaped into my writing and felt enormous gratitude for this glamorous world I had created.

After eighteen months of frustration and despair, I had found my passion again! By the time November 30th rolled around, I had completed my novel. Two weeks later, I signed the contract for what would go on to become my next novel The Vows He Must Keep. Suddenly, I was back writing everyday and doing what I loved again.

So if you are suffering from the dreaded writer’s block, trust me there is hope. If you are stuck in a stale project and it is killing your creativity, start something new. If fifty thousand words sounds too daunting, break it down into small daily chunks.

It works out at 1667 words per day so you could aim for two 1k 1hour sprints and challenge others on twitter. If you like the pomodoro method you could pencil in four sessions throughout the day and aim for 400-500 words each time. Trust me, those little writing sprints add up and eventually turn into a book!

No matter where you are in your writing journey, I think NaNoWriMo is a fantastic opportunity to tap into the collective creative pulse of the writing world. Make new connections, cheer one another on and just WRITE! Challenge yourself to push past your boundaries and see what you’re capable of.

Will you be joining me?