November is just two weeks away, which means that aspiring writers will take the challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words before midnight November 30th.
Pros and novices commit to a writing marathon. Some folks love it because it “forces” them to sit down and just do it. I guess some pros might work that way too. I recall meeting a successful writer who told me that she “rewards” herself when she finishes a manuscript.
I found that puzzling since there are higher paying and less emotional taxing occupations in writing. I thought the incentive was the love of the journey. Some pros and novices like the competition or perhaps feeling a connection to the great numbers of people who are probably doing the same thing at the same time. I saw an interview last year with one of the participants. She participated two years and planned to do it again. Pressed by the interviewer, she said that by December her hard copies were tucked away in a drawer—mission accomplished.
With weekends off for R&R, that’s around 2000 words a day. Writing is a lonely business. We seek out similar souls to commiserate about the process through local clubs and online pen pals or challenges like NaNoWriMo. The creators wisely suggested that participants start prepping in September. There is much to do before you start your race to finish the minimum wordage. That is a reasonable length for a juvenile novel. But even the lightweight, cozy mysteries are longer than that. Fifty-K words make a decent first draft. Price-conscious editors and agents keep in mind that readers expect to get a lot of story for the cover price. Given a workable plot and likable characters, you can go back to add sensory details, clarify descriptions, and add dialogue to improve and lengthen the manuscript considerably. If that isn’t enough, you can always give the main character some vocation or hobby that adds dimension to the character’s personality and bring in another character for a subplot.
If you are just now made aware of the challenge, you are already two months behind in preparation. Before you begin to write November 1st, you have basic decisions to make: Who is the main character that readers will care about and root for? Who are the “supporting cast?” You might want at least one who believes in and supports the MC, someone to whom the MC reveals thoughts, or mirrors the goals. You will want to consider an adversary, the reminder that goals might be out of reach. Every one of these characters has an agenda of their own, and they all have lived through accomplishments and failures, experiences and problems that make them who they are. Once you really know them, they all but write the story for you.
If you weren’t one of the early birds, don’t despair. What about that abandoned manuscript that remains unfinished in a drawer. It’s worth a second look. As Mark Twain said, “Take the fire; leave the ashes.” Find that fire in it that made you want to have a go at it in the first place. If you’ve read consistently and written all along, chances are you will have a new perspective this time.
You’ll need to think about the place and time. Historical or the Future requires preliminary research to avoid anachronisms. The location and time of year affect the weather, the length of days and ordinary things like cutting grass or shoveling snow, drought or hurricane. Avoiding these details for a generic anytime, anywhere story denies the realities of life. It is a good idea to know where you’re heading before you begin. Not every writer creates detailed chapter outlines. Some prefer a stream of conscious or seat of the pants style. But knowing at least what you expect the MC to accomplish and/or understand, you might avoid a lot of side trips. Wander off the road, and you might bog down in quicksand.
I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo in the past and don’t plan to this year either. November is my time to prepare for the holidays. I use the baking, decorating time to prep and create in my head. I am much too slow and deliberate in my preparation and give it at least three months before I start to outline a story. I would wind up failing to complete and feeling like a failure. Without positive feedback, we get enough of that feeling on our own. Some days I can write a complete, often poor chapter. Other times I might create only 300 satisfying words. I’m not saying that I don’t set goals most days.. I’ve had to write a chapter a day to reach deadlines. I might even try the first draft in a month too. But I’ll select a short, miserable month like February, where inside with my computer and a steaming glass of hot cider seems smart.
Writers are as different as fingerprints in our processes. If you are incentivized by the competition, go for it and when the clock strikes midnight on November 30th, take a moment to congratulate yourself. Let the story germinate in the computer and your thoughts over the holidays, and then set your own timeframe to reread, revise, and recreate. I’ll be right here, cheering you toward the goal. Write on!
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