Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. (For those who don’t know, it is a challenge where the participant is shooting to write an original work of at least 50 000 words in the 30 days of November). I’m participating again this year. It will be my third stab at the process. I started back in 2009 and appear to be on a biannual schedule, jumping back onto the wagon every two years. Every year I’ve tried it, I’ve succeeded (they call it “winning” on the website) by reaching at least 50K words by month’s end.

I have to say, the first time out, I thought the goal of 50K was unreal. It felt so terrible and monolithic and, well, unachievable. It works out to 1667 words a day. That number doesn’t seem to overwhelming in itself, but it takes me (on a good day) anywhere between one and two hours to reach that total. By the end of the month, that’ll mean I’ve typed for 60+ hours. By one way of thinking, 60 hours is nothing. Most of us waste more than that in TV-watching over a month. No big deal. Just stop watching Big Brother and The Voice and you’re there! But the other way of thinking is that those 60+ hours aren’t mindless or easy. Every word you type must be deliberately selected and part of the greater tapestry of the story you’re trying to tell. Even with the best of intentions, no one types perfectly, so you’re self-editing as you go, erasing misspells or changing brutal word choices before things spin out of control. I can flake on the sofa and watch all three Lord of the Rings movies (if I had a catheter, that is) but there’s no way I can type for nine hours in a row. Even if my fingers could manage it, my mind would start to melt if I’m hammering away at 850 words an hour.

What I’m saying is, writing is fun but it also takes it out of you. You can feel invigorated by a really good bout, but eventually you have to walk away from the computer. So when NaNoWriMo comes around, there are two things to remember:

1. Don’t obsess with perfection. Crafting a good novel is not done in a month with only one draft. You have to move forward and keep on creating or you’ll never reach 50K. Editing is NOT part of NaNoWriMo. Turning your work into something fit to be read by others happens after November.

2. Don’t miss a single day. Missing one day means the next day you have 4 hours of work ahead of you. This math adds up quickly. Suddenly you’ve missed a week, you’re 14 hours behind, and 9000 words away from where you want to be. Even if you can’t reach your 1700 words in a day, get something down. A half hour today means only three-and-a-half tomorrow instead of four. It all helps. Add to your word count every day.

Working on my third NaNoWriMo project, I’m well ahead of schedule because I’m following my own advice. Maybe other things will work for you; those two points above work for me. This time I’m so confident that 50K is achievable that I’m “wasting” time and posting on my blog instead of just adding words to my total. See? Cocky. That’s what experience gets you! Seriously, though, it’s less arrogance than just knowing what I’m capable of doing now, having been through the process a few times.

Like the previous two times I’ve done this, the project I’m working on is rough and very ugly in some places. What I’m going to end up with is a detailed plan with many places of text that can eventually be cut-and-pasted into a more polished work. This has value, yes, but it isn’t how I would choose to create. Since I loathe editing, I prefer to create as clean a copy as I can even the first time through. No, for me, the real value in NaNoWriMo, for me, is the impetus to work. It helps me get rededicated to writing.

That’s why I bothered to jump in this year at all. The last two years have been a disturbingly dry spell in terms of new works. With week three almost done, I feel energized. I’m eager for the month to be over so I can start different projects. In fact, for the first time, I’ve started hacking away at a short story while trying to get my core NaNoWriMo project finished. (And no, the short story words don’t count towards my 50K goal.)

Thirty days of re-training. It goes well. If you’re a writer, give it a try some year (if you haven’t already). The website has all sorts of advice and pointers, if you’re interested:

National Novel Writing Month

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