Sunday, December 5, 2010
I Wrote a Novel Last Month
In November, for the first time, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge. In case you still don't know, that's National Novel Writing Month, and it has been the subject of some controversy. See here for another rant.
Moderation, IOW, seems in short supply when NaNo comes up in conversation.
So why'd I do it?
For one thing, the timing was right. In October I turned in the first book in a new series. I was due to start outlining the second book anyway. So I thought, what the hey? Let's try it the NaNoWriMo way. My goal was simple: see what it is like to write this way, and expect that at worst I'd know my story better by the end.
Or, maybe I'd come up with something pretty close to the actual novel I wanted.
Also, some novelist friends of mine got in on the action. The small group included both "pantsers" and "outliners," all multi-published. I thought it would be interesting to see how we all came out.
In the days before it began, I actually started to get jazzed, excited about just pure writing for awhile. I think the happiest days of my writing life were when I was unpublished. I was writing for the joy of it. Oh yeah, of course I wanted to be published. But there was something so free and easy about those early efforts. Maybe it was all just a delusion, but if so it was a happy one.
Over the years, writing with contracts and under deadlines, I lost a little of that joy. I never stopped loving writing. Still do. But I'm talking about the feeling I get when body surfing here in So Cal, caught up in a wave and letting it swoosh me all the way to shore.
I thought it would be cool to write with reckless abandon again, to just throw myself out there and take a risk. Usually I do a month or more of planning and outlining, and ease my way into that first draft. I finish a draft in four or five months.
NaNoWriMo was going to get one out of me in thirty days. I wanted to see what it would look like.
I made a few preparations. I looked at my daily schedule and decided to cut down on a bunch of time wasters: Net surfing, blog reading, movie watching, e-mail lingering, news shows. It's amazing how much time creep there is in these things.
Next, I gave myself a tentative schedule. I'd write my "nifty 350" words first thing in the morning. Just get up and let my subconscious provide the material. I would leave off the previous day's writing mid-sentence, a la Hemingway, so I could dive right in.
NaNoWriMo shoots for a 50,000 word novel. My goal was to get to 60,000 words.
I would keep track of my novel by drafting in the stupendous program Scrivener. This would show me –– through color coding and synopses and an "outline view" –– where I was at every stage of the process. It would update me on my word count, and let me jot scene ideas wherever I wanted. And a lot of other things I won't go into. (Except one very cool feature is you can put your page on any background photo you have. I rigged it so I was writing with the interior of my favorite diner in L.A., Langer's, in the background. I could almost smell the hot pastrami.)
And so, on Monday, November 1, I began.
On Tuesday, November 30, I finished, with 61,587 words.
So how are those words? I don't know yet. I'm letting the thing cool, as I advocate in my revision book, and I will actually follow the process I lay down there (yes, he practices what he preaches). But I will tell you that the central plot element, the McGuffin as Hitchcock used to say, popped up spontaneously during one scene and said, "Here I am, pal!" It was awesome. It made the book.
I think there will be many scenes that will stay pretty much as is. I'll have some fleshing out to do, of course, but the skeleton feels solid.
Next week, I'll tell you some of the things I learned that may be helpful to writers. But let me say to those who took issue with NaNoWriMo, what's the beef? So long as people know they're not first drafting a publishable novel, why would anybody be against writers doing what they're supposed to do, write? It ain't that easy to do a fairly coherent 50,000 word story in a month. And my proverbial hat is off especially to those who hit 50k while also holding down a day job or family responsibilities or anything like that. I do this full time. It's quite another thing to complete the challenge with a packed schedule of other duties. To those of you who made it I say, well done!
I loved doing a novel in a month. I feel a sense of accomplishment, like I finished a 5k or endured the unedited version of Heaven's Gate.
So I'd love to hear from anyone who gave NaNoWriMo a shot this year. How was it for you?
And those of you who had a problem with it . . . You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?