NaNoWriMo: How to Write a Novel in a Month (and Live to Write About It)

NaNoWriMo: It sounds like the nickname of someone’s Italian grandmother. It’s actually the too-clever-by-half acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which, at present writing, is about a third past. Or, to use the unit of measure valued most by Wrimos (their slang, not mine), you should have written about 16,670 words by now.

Every November, thousands of participants around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. And why shouldn’t they? Writing a book on a lark is one of the few cheap thrills that taps directly into the unprecedented shifts in how to consume and to share media. Before the Kindle, iPad, and sundry other e-reading devices and apps, one’s month-long quest for literary immortality would likely molder in a drawer. Now, it can be honed, polished, and published to your eager readers and become the next  50 Shades of Gray, you know, given enough BDSM and other acronyms befitting a Craigslist “casual encounters” ad (NaNoWriMo ain’t one of them).

Don’t Call it Self-Publishing

Even if you push the publish button yourself at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site, it’s not called “self-publishing” any longer, it’s now “indie publishing.” This recalls some of the street-cred that indie once held for bands and filmmakers. An indie author is no longer a scribe who wouldn’t otherwise be published but rather a renegade, a rebel, bypassing corporate gatekeepers and taking her message straight to the people. And if that message is soft-core porn meant to be read one-handed, you will sell millions.

The stakes are low. Language is free. It’s really just a matter of time management. 30 days, about 1667 words a day (you probably already texted this many today). To give you a sense of what a certain quantity of words looks like, this very column is 770 words. Write a couple of these and you’re done today. Albeit, they should have all the elements readers might expect in a novel ? character, story, theme, plot, ribald depictions of sexual decadence.

It’s work. But it’s work done sitting down using technology vastly more powerful than what NASA used to land a man on the moon. And you’re not landing on the moon. You’re making stuff up. The odds are in your favor to reach your 50,000 word destination.

So, why do so many novels fail to launch and instead become a self-recriminating fireball of failure? You can blame your undiagnosed ADD, your hangover, your fear of success ? ultimately, it comes down to the fact that you don’t want it enough. And that’s okay. Accept this notion before you start a novel you haven’t real interest in finishing and spare yourself the self-loathing (you can save it for the holidays).

Writing a Novel in Fits & False Starts

Writing a novel in a month is a marathon in small sprints. Here are some tips:

Turn off everything that isn’t essential to the process (browsers, phones, James Marshall Berry). Don’t got to your “happy place.” Instead, go next door to your happy place and commit a home-invasion burglary. Loot memories, confidences and anxieties. Then hang low; avoid your happy place until the heat’s gone because that’ll be the first place they’ll look for you. While in psychic hiding, kill the time by writing your confession ? 1667 words at a time. When you’re done with each interval, go back to your happy place and pretend it never happened. Repeat daily for 30 days.

Don’t “slaughter your darlings” ? for now. Apocryphally, this was one of Faulkner’s strategies for ridding his writing of precious notions that didn’t serve the text. It’s useful during rewrites but while you’re drafting, let your darlings proliferate until they crowd the page. Treat them like a beneficial bacteria. They’re your starter culture. You can kill them later.

Don’t do research — it’s a convenient way to pretend you’re working but really, you’re just touring the Internet. Instead, use a “fake it and fix it later” approach. This is what I did with my resume. Worked fine — here I am and there you are. See what I mean?

Avoid schadenfreude. There will be people who will privately delight in your struggle to write, who will secretly pray you to fail in your quest because your success somehow diminishes theirs. Unless you’re writing a roman á clef that specifically mocks that person, you are needlessly exposing yourself to sabotage. Avoid these people. Moreover, don’t be one of these people. You have permission to write them off. In fact, take 1667 words to do and you’ve made the day’s word count!

About Daedalus Howell

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