This year I was a winner of National Novel Writer’s Month.. Winning this event is no particular distinction; it only means that in 30 days you write a 50,000 word novel. It occurred to me, during a few of the harried, word-crazy moments of NaNoWriMo, that it’s much like becoming a writer. The event itself is an incredible experience. I began participating because I’d taken some classes, written several short stories, and thought I had a novel in me. There is, to my knowledge, no better way to write a novel. Here’s what I learned:
- You have to write every day. This is an absolute necessity. In NaNoWriMo you need to bang out 1,667 words per day or you won’t make it. The word count requirement is inexorable. It stalks you like a looming shadow. You force yourself to write in any free moment – over breakfast, at lunch, before falling asleep in bed. The words must come.
- The writing need not be perfect. In the first draft, the most important thing is to get words on paper. You shouldn’t try to go back to make every sentence perfect. And with a word count requirement hanging over your head, you simply can’t. Pausing to edit and re-write slows the pace and kills creativity. The words must flow.
- Outlining only works for some people. For me, it absolutely does not. I’ve generally had a vague idea of where the story is going, but very few of the details. I write on the fly, and in NaNoWriMo, this is just fine. Some of my best writing came while I was just trying to get some words down.
- A support network is critical. I probably wouldn’t get through November without my writing friends – we meet over lunch, motivate one another (sometimes through competition), and try to put in a few hundred words. I certainly wouldn’t make it without the support and sometimes-grumbling acquiescence of my wife.
- The busier you are, the easier it is to find time to write. Some of my least-productive days were when I had an open schedule, a solid block of a few hours to write. For some reason I struggle these times. Give me half an hour before breakfast, or twenty minutes that I should be spending getting ready for bed, and I can really churn out the work. There’s a corollary to this: don’t quit your day job.
This is an incredible competitive field. I hear crazy statistics about the number of queries that literary agents receive per year, or the incredibly high chances of not getting published. Bottom line, though, there are lots of people who want to be writers, who want to write a novel. Most of them will never do it. Even fewer will let anyone else see the manuscript, so getting far enough to send something out puts you ahead of 95% of the would-be writers. That’s what I think about, when I put my shoulder to the grindstone.
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Agreed on the last point. I get most of my writing done in my lunch breaks, as soon as I get home from the office and I have an open night…nothing is done.
It’s good to have that hour/half hour where I can put on my headphones and drop into the world I’m writing.