Are you ready to draft a 50,000 word novel in 30 days? If so, you’ll be pleased to note that today is the first day of the annual brouhaha known as National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo. Laura Miller over at Salon thinks you shouldn’t attempt it, on account of writing being such a narcissistic pursuit, while reading, she thinks, is a dying art. Miller is concerned that “an astonishing number of individuals who want to do the former [write novels] will confess to never doing the latter [reading novels].”
Well, she has a point there. When I teach, the first thing I tell my writing students is to read widely and well. As long as you’ve got that covered, I see no reason why you shouldn’t try to write a novel. Even in a month.
Carolyn Kellogg in the LA Times takes issue with Miller’s “at best wrongheaded, and at worst smallhearted,” column, noting that there are many worse things one could attempt to do with a month than write a novel, even if it turns out to be a pretty dismal first draft. Which is true. How many days disappear into the black hole of Facebook and twitter, the quicksand of texting and tumbling (or is it Tumblr-ing?) Maybe Nanowrimo should be recommended as Replacement Therapy for other Highly Counterproductive Habits. This month you take up writing, and you give up trolling Facebook, smoking crack, and knocking over little old ladies in the street.
On November 30, I’d like to catch up with the 160,000 or so folks who have signed up for Nanowrimo this year, just to see how many have written a draft of a novel in 30 days. And then I would like to shake their hands. I wrote my most recent novel in three years, the one before that in a year (under duress), the one before that in four years, and the one before that in two. I would not recommend taking this long to write a novel. One becomes depressed as the years drag on and the novel sits unfinished. I have contracts to fulfill, and I’m sure my publisher would be thrilled if I could knock out a draft in a month. My husband would be thrilled, too. The book has to get written, after all, and the mortgage has to get paid, and I can’t keep going four years between books if I want my son to go to college or continue his ice hockey lessons. The ice hockey is our backup plan if my books don’t make enough money to send him to college. Oh yes, ice hockey is dangerous but at least one gets to keep moving, and the helmets look cool.
Of course, I imagine that most people embarking on Nanowrimo are younger than I am. It may be possible to draft a novel in a month if you have a job but no kids, or if you have kids but no job. You could, technically, work from 8-5, get home around six, write until midnight and all day on weekends, and finish that draft. If you have children but no job, you could, theoretically, write from 8:30 to 2:30 while the kids are in school, minus the time for taking them and picking them up, which shrinks the day to 9:00-2:00. (If you’re saying, “just get up earlier,” you’re assuming that children don’t wake up the moment you roll out of bed, be it 5:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. or the middle of the night, on account of them not wanting to miss out on any excitement.)
Other things you should not have if you want to participate in Nanowrimo: emergencies, car trouble, a leaking roof, a spouse or live-in partner, a roommate, a dog, a drinking habit, scheduled work trips, scheduled vacations, a yoga habit, a gilt.com habit, outbursts of mental laziness. Since writing is my job and I clearly have no yoga habit, I have just talked myself into attempting a draft of a novel in 50 days, the spouse be damned. My outbursts of mental laziness will have to cease and desist. Okay, maybe not a whole draft of a novel, but half of a draft. I hereby commit. I’ll check in 30 days from now and tell you how far I got.
Meanwhile, if you’re up for the challenge, head over to Nanowrimo.org for camraderie and encouragement. And today, day one, try this:
Nanowrimo Exercise: Day 1: Write a scene in which a character is somehow immobilized. The character may be stuck in a stalled subway car, confined to a bed or wheelchair, locked in a room, paralyzed by fear. How does the character react? What does he or she say/do? The fact that your character is immobilized creates a natural source of dramatic tension. Dramatic tension is the lifeblood of narrative; you want the reader to wonder, “what will happen next?”
Write the scene from the first person point of view for now; you can always change it later. The advantage of first person done well is twofold. It creates an intimacy between the reader and the protagonist, and it establishes the voice of the story or novel. The first person point of view is particularly helpful to the writer in the early stages of drafting a novel, as it can help you to see more clearly through your character’s eyes.
This exercise is excerpted from Story Starters: A Workbook for Writers. Filled with 50 days of guided prompts for NaNoWriMo and beyond.
Michelle Richmond is the author of four books of fiction and the founder of Fiction Attic Press. Visit her at BayAreaBookDoctor.com or MichelleRichmond.com.
Photo courtesy of nuchylee at freedigitalphotos.net