Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Leaping Out of My Comfort Zone: Writing a Novel in a Month

Most of you have probably heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I've never participated and this past November (when the contest takes place), I had too much going on personally to take part. Instead, I decided to do it by myself in January 2009. So I buckled up over the last week of December 2008 and told myself there would be no wriggling out of it. I was writing a novel in 31 days.

I've never written a novel in a year or more nevermind one month. The NaNoWriMo challenge is writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, or around 1,667 words a day. NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty recommends giving yourself a maximum of one week to plan. The way my life went in December, I had a few hours to scrape up a vague premise and main character. So on January 1, 2009, I knew I was writing about a young woman in medieval England who was marrying a complete stranger and leaving her home and family.

The first day or two of writing I thought, "This is going to be the worst novel ever." I walked along with my main characters, feeling them out, seeking out a plot. At one point, my biggest aspiration for my main character was that she would have a baby! That would have been fine too but the characters started speaking and dealing with each other and pretty soon the main storyline was charging ahead. In the end, I wrote I pretty satisfying tale and actually exceeded the word minimum by about 10,000. More importantly, I wrapped up my story, which had some exciting twists that even I didn't see coming.

Will I do things differently the next time I write a novel in a month? Yes and no. I knew going the historical route would be difficult. I have a decent knowledge of the Middle Ages but it drove me nuts ignoring details I didn't have time to research. So next time I'll stick to a modern setting. I also found the plot got a little more complicated than I desired. The hardest part was wrapping up all the loose ends. I did well but afterward I realized I'd still missed something. I'll definitely keep things simple the next time around. I still won't spend much time planning ahead though. I like not knowing exactly where it's all going.

Would I do it again? In the middle of January I was ready to start again in February. And at the end, when I was burnt out and struggling to finish the story, I still wanted to. So yes. When November 2009 rolls around, I hope I can participate. If not, I'll do it on my own again. I came out seeing character development in a whole new light. Writing short assignments of 300-500 words now seems like nothing. And I see my writing from a whole new vantage point.

If you've never written a novel in a month, I recommend trying it. You'll be scared, excited, and frustrated, sometimes all at once. But when you finish and have the first draft of a book in front of you, I promise you won't regret one minute of it.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?


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