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October 2005

write a novel

October 5, 2005   

November is National Novel Writing Month. Check out the info at the official NaNoWriMo website.

The goal is to write 50,000 words of prose in the month of November. I did this last year (in December instead) and it was extremely gratifying. Most days, I wrote solidly for about 1-2 hours, with the exception of maybe 4 days when I wrote for around 3 days hours, even taking two days off near the end and finishing 3 days early. That wasn’t to boast; I just want to reassure you that you can do this without sacrificing your entire life. This effort results in a book about the length of Catcher in the Rye, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and Of Mice and Men. Dude. How do you say no to that?

It’s weird, but the premise is that you are writing the draft and should not expect it to be the completed novel, so you should expect to write lots of crap with the good. It’s about enjoying the experience and going out and actually writing things down, not expecting “the muse” to dictate when you tell your story or figure out that next plot snarl.

From the FAQ on their website:

If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

I am definitely going to do it again this year. Who is with me?! Last year, Seppo got my draft bound up and printed via CafePress. It looks like a real book, with front matter, chapter breaks, page numbering. It’s beautiful. People who cross the finish line on time are generally offered a free copy of their book printed via, but as I did mine during the month of December instead of the standard November, I did not qualify. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. The ride itself was exhilarating and I learned SO much about the writing process. I am hoping to leverage some of it for this year’s run.

Let’s do it, people! Woo!!!