Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, April 26, 2010

Writing a Novel in Thirty Days

I used to think that NaNoWriMo was a bad idea. Who can write anything of worth in such a short time? Okay, it won't be ready to submit professionally, but there are reasons why a quick start is helpful.

* Writing that fast will help you keep your tone and voice consistent.

* An outline and/or clear structure diagram is a must to stay on track.

* When your mind and pen wanders and drifts, time will force you to rein things in and return to the story.

* The forced discipline will stimulate your imagination.

* In preparation, you'll take time off work, prepare meals ahead, stay home weekends--whatever will free up time for the writing frenzy.

* Once the thing is written-- first draft done, story and characters in there somewhere-- you can take your time revising. All year if necessary.


Robert Penn Warren said, "Some people pour it out and it is fine; some people pour it out and it's awful. And some people grind it out very hard, and it is awful; and some people grind it out very hard, and it's good."

But after the writing, whether you pour it out or grind it out, comes the critical thinking, the analyzing and revising. Not during. After. Then you go back to it, take your time and create something real out of that hectic, mad thirty day rush of awful words strung together. That's when you go back and find the story and the people, like a sculptor with his clay. That's when you create art.

Almost makes you wish for November, doesn't it?

57 comments:

  1. These are all great reasons! I have to admit that I was dubious about NanoWrimo at first too; it made me think of those books that promise readers they will lose 30 pounds in 30 days, and I figured that it would be too stressful and unhealthy. But the reasons you gave were very convincing, and in contrast to those rapid weight loss methods, I'm thinking that writing a novel in 30 days will mean I'll be far less likely to eat a bunch of junk food once the month is over.

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  2. To write a novel in 30 days to me is like speed reading. I can do it, but I lose the essence of what makes it meaningful to me. I wish you great luck in your endeavor. May it work what you wish in your craft, Roland

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  3. The participants of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge have been at the writing gym working out to get in shape for NaNo. I think I've easily done 50,000 words in commenting alone this month.

    Lee
    A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

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  4. NaNo is great fun. I hope to do it this coming November.

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  5. Laini Taylor started one in March as practice for November. It was fun! I didn't finish it, but got farther than I ever thought that I could in 30 days. My writing was not as bad as I thought it would be in that time. It did help me focus and definitely stimulated my writing. Now I can hardly wait for November.

    Thanks for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. I was seeing it everywhere, but I no one was reference where it came from. 50,000 words in commenting alone is incredible! :-)

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  6. Has anyone published a novel from NaNoWriMo?

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  7. I gave NaNo a shot one year and bombed dradtically. It was fun to try, though. And it brought up a lot of ideas I might save for future work.

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  8. NaNo forced me to finish a novel. It may not be my best. But having that goal and that accountability got me past 10,000 words. I have soooo many ideas that are sitting at 10,000 words. So applying that goal and then spending time editing is what will get me a polished work.

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  9. I love Nanowrimo, it's great fun. I use it to play with ideas that I otherwise would be reluctant to devote time to. I'm a slow writer and committing to a book means a large chunk out of my life, so Nano is a great chance to play with the ideas I'm lukewarm on.

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  10. Hi

    OH I am so tempted to do this only because it'll discipline me and make me focus!!

    I'll have to think about it but the more I read about it the more it seems like a good thing for me to get started on!

    Thanks for this timely reminder!

    Take care
    x

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  11. That is a tough challenge, but I can see where it would force you to get the words down. I wish everyone luck with it. I think the lack of time for editing would free up a lot of ideas and just getting the words on paper could produce a body of work that you could go back and work on.

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  12. Your list makes sense. While I think writing a novel in thirty days is unnecessary torture, it can be a kick start for those who begin a novel, and then abandon it part way through.

    I write my first drafts in about five or six weeks, but pushing myself to do it any faster doesn't appeal to me. Besides, there's always that DAY, the one where I write the first line and just GO. It happens spontaneously, rather than on November first.

    I've heard too many people write it in November and query in December. That's probably not a good idea!

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  13. Nano is a lot of fun! I enjoy pushing myself and the rush of it. It forces a disciplined 2,000 words/day.

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  14. Theresa, really? Query in December? Oh those poor agents.

    Lola, last year was my first year and I was hooked.

    Brigid, for some people I think it works really well depending on how you work and what keeps you from writing.

    Old Kitty, lack of discipline and focus is one of my biggest obstacles to finishing, so yes it's a good idea for me too.

    Ellen, glad it works for you. That's so cool!

    Amie, key word there is forced! Yep, that's what I need too. To be forced to do what I want to do anyway.

    Paul, well I guess it depends on what you mean by bombed?

    Xuxana, that's what I'd like to know.

    Jennie, what a good idea!

    Donna, me too! I'm thinking I might start one entirely from scratch then.

    Lee, it's been fun seeing what everyone comes up with for the alphabet this month. I've enjoyed reading the posts although I didn't participate myself.

    Roland, I agree it's not for everyone!

    Neurotic workaholic, And what an ideal task to set before a neurotic workaholic. Sounds custom made for you!

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  15. I NaNo'ed last November and it was a good experience for me, though I wouldn't do it every year. It worked for me because I had a clear idea of where I needed to go with a novel that I'd started but needed to finish.

    For me, it worked because it just made me write. And it was a way of giving myself permission to write down various rabbit trails.

    I don't think I could write 50,000 words if I didn't know where I was going, though. That would frustrate me.

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  16. Sarah, that was me last year. The draft was done, it just needed attention. A lot of attention. This year I'm thinking about doing it raw, from scratch.

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  17. I heard about this halfway through the month so there wasn't any point in joining/starting. Might do it this year though. I just need to push forward, I expect my first draft to be utter crap.

    I can fix stuff later, but I can't fix it until I get it down on paper.

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  18. MissV, thanks for visiting! Your blog is awesome btw. Love the last sentence of this comment!!! That's the whole point isn't it?

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  19. I've been reading the book "No Plot, No Problem" which is written by the guy who started NaNo. It's really opened my eyes to the benefits of this. Like you have here :) But i don't know if I could make it through the pressure of having to complete it in one month. I think the stress would do me in :)

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  20. I totally agree! I never have much time in November with my job, but usually I try to write a 1,000 words a day and I'm amazed that I actually achieved it this past year!

    And you're right! We were thinking on the same wave length today!

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  21. I typically knock out 75-100k words in 6-8 weeks. Then I spend a year fixing all the poo in it ;)

    I like the process though, for the simple reason you stated above: I stay in voice and get a good handle on my characters by doing it in such a condensed time.

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  22. I'm a fast writer by nature anyway (because I have a bit of an obsessive single-minded sort of personality, so once I get hooked on a story, I write as much as possible every day until it's finished.) I like having a first draft down really fast, because then I can put all my energy for the next months into revising.

    The one thing I will say about NaNo is sometimes you feel like you want to win so badly you keep writing even though you know you've hit a glitch in the story--I've done this before, and it actually was just a pain in the butt to fix, and I would've had less revising to do if I'd stopped and worked through with the outline and not worried so much about words per day.

    But I'm glad you've decided to try it. :)

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  23. I've tried NaNo once and failed miserably. I just don't write like that. I'm a true grinder all the way.

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  24. I am all for pouring it out quickly, then going back in and fixing later. I think it's good for the reasons you mention - as long as you have some type of outline beforehand so you don't stray too far.

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  25. Excellent points, Karen. Do you think NaNo works better for plotters or pantsers? I'd think plotters, because pantsers often need to stop and think. Plotters would already have an outline.

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  26. I think Nanowrimo is a great way for picky writers to exercise their outpourings (yucky word...) - I agree with Talli!

    I'm looking forward to the next nanowrimo - but they're not ideal when you're a student, as exams usually come lurking in nov-dec...

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  27. I toyed with the idea of participating in Nano last November. Chickened out, just like I did with the A-Z challenge. Can you hear the chickens clacking! Maybe I will put my brave face on next November but then again maybe not!

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  28. I only just heard about this a few months ago but I think it's doable and agree that once you've got a first draft, no matter how long it took to write, that's when the real craft comes into play.

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  29. The longer I live, the more interesting life gets!! This is SO interesting. Never heard of it until now. I am always learning something from you, Karen! I'm curious and will go see what it's all about. I think anything that gets one writing is good.

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  30. Btw- Whenever I come to your page, I can't help singing 'she'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes...' Put's a smile on my face.

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  31. Yes. As Miss V said: if you don't get something down on paper, you don't have anything to fix. Another variant, as I've told myself over the years: if you don't send out what you've written, there's no chance of it ever getting published!!

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  32. Oh, once that groove hits I get blinders on and tunnel vision and my family wonders what the heck happened to mom? It's been a while, but it is time. There are corndogs in the freezer.

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  33. This is such an intriguing idea, total immersion in your novel. I can see how this would make you "live" your novel rather than getting spurts of genius as you step out of the shower. Or is that just me? Inspiration is a funny thing isn't it?

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  34. Amen! Though I have to admit, I've done NaNo for years and have never had a single outline in place. Then again, I'm a pantser and I'm okay with gutting things during revision that don't work.

    I love it, because it forces you to focus on writing EVERY day, and not just when you feel like it.

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  35. I've done NaNo 3 times and it was always fun. I might do my own NaNo in May because I have 50k of my novel to go and want to get it finished.

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  36. I think of it as everyone having their own style and way of doing things. I wouldn't want to constrain myself with that kind of set-up but I can understand any one who would want to try it.

    Jai

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  37. I've tried NaNo a few times and I think I psych myself out by it. It is a great starting point, though.

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  38. I did Nano last year for the first time. It was so nice to just be creative and pour things out. I felt like it was a good use of time and got me into the habit of writing. True, I'm editing like crazy now, but at least I have something to edit.

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  39. Not something I can see myself doing unfortunately... if I'm going to get the inspiration and the availability coming into conjunction with each other then it almost certainly won't happen in November. (Moreover, that's my 'help, I should be thinking about Christmas, dammit' month :))

    Why didn't they pick one of the 31-day months for it though?! :)

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  40. I don't think I could handle the pressure!

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  41. I'm not sure if I could write a first draft in 30 days with three kids:) Maybe when the youngest is in school I'll give it a try.

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  42. I love Nano, it makes November a special time of the year. I write fast for first drafts, and worry about revision later. The drafts tend to be rather rough, but the writing process is enjoyable. My first Nano was 2003, I've participated every year since and have 3 'wins'.

    When the numbers are broken down the task isn't to daunting. 1,667 words a day is a large amount of writing, but it's not a horribly large amount. Depending on the amount of dialogue it's probably about 2 pages. (I had a college writing prof tell us we should be writing a page a day).

    That all being said, I have a pile of first draft novels accumulating on my hard drive. I told myself I'm not doing Nano this year unless I push though a revision pass on one of them. I figure Nano will be a good motivator.

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  43. I think to write anything fast requires an outline and a clear concept of what you are writing. And then I think there's merit in this kind of writing.
    June

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  44. I'm with Melissa on this one. Three little kids makes Nano pretty much impossible.
    To answer Xuxana's question, my CG group friend Sydney published a Nano book--it was her first. It's very much possible.

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  45. Took me 3 weeks to write my first book which came to a large word count of 121,884. Granted I was on winter break and DYING of boredom from a 2 month long break so I had more than enough creative juice. It turned out to be magnificent! Minus all of the rushed spelling errors and grammatical errors. It was exactly what I had hoped for and imagined, I was literally reading my dream on paper. I could not have done it any other way, pounding it all out is how I stay in the moment of my story and how I capture the true tones and emotions, the style. It's easier to get my thoughts out on paper right away and correct the errors later.

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  46. For me, writing is editing. Getting the first draft down in 30 days is a huge advantage - it means I don't have time to start revisions before I reach the end. I can keep my internal editor at bay. You're right, it makes a huge difference in consistency of tone and voice.

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  47. How does one take time off from work to do this? Seriously. I wouldn't be able to take more than one week off at a time--if I'm lucky.

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  48. I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo 2009, and I'm still working on revisions. Is it the best novel ever? Certainly not ... at least not yet. :) But it forced me to ignore my fear and to finally follow my dream. Also, I learned that I do well with deadlines. I'm not sure if I'll do it again (it was hard!), but it was a great kick-start to my life as a writer.

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  49. Oh my word! Look how many followers you have! You go girl!

    You know, the book WiDo bought was written in a month. I had a feeling about it and I didn't quit until it was done. I felt like someone else was writing through me, like I was possessed. It was super cool and would love to do that again.

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  50. I'm hope to try NaNoWriMo this year, just to see what it feels like. It would be nice, however, to finish revising the current wip first. :)

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  51. Unfortunately, I've never done NaNo- November is a bad month for the craziness. But I write like a maniac all summer. The life of a teacher!

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  52. Yep I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2009 and have never regretted it once! For someone who is constantly crippled by the inner editor, this pedal-to-the-metal writing style helped me pour the story out and be a little less uptight, making room for the creative juices to flow freely. It was a great experience and I'm thinking about doing it again this year!

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  53. This has been fascinating reading all the comments and seeing how everyone does it. I'm pretty sure the 30 day mania is my best method. Otherwise the distractions, excuses and the annoying inner editor stops all progress. So yes, I'll be doing it this year. Even though I doubt very much I'll hit 50,000 words!!

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  54. Such an inspiring post. I'm considering this, doing it even next month, even, and not waiting for November!!

    Thanks for the nudge!

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  55. Okay. I'm going to do it! It will be done by June 1st!

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  56. It sounds so fun to try to write with a deadline. I almost want to do it because there is no expectation of perfection. No one would ever read it so I couldn't be embarrased by my horrible writing. It would be my first book ever, although I have no story. Maybe by November I will have an idea and do NaNoWriMo just for kicks.

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  57. I think Bukowski wrote Post Office in about three weeks. Same with Dostoy and The Gambler. I also think On the Road was burned out in a few speed filled writing sessions. But I could be wrong. I do think there's merit in what Miller said of writing in a "great white heat." I wish I had 30 straight days just to write. I could get a lot done.

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