First, for those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It begins November 1 and ends November 30 and the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.
My first attempt at NaNoWriMo was in November 2007. During that 30 days I managed to write 22,000 words, which is probably the most I’ve written in a single month, but still less than half of the mark to successfully complete the event. Even so, what I wrote was expanding upon a short story that I’d already written and so I had a boost, so to speak. This time, while I think I have a good idea for a novel, I have nothing on paper yet (except a few notes) so I am really starting this year from scratch.
50,000 words is not really a novel. Most publishers (at least, most science fiction and fantasy publishers) wouldn’t look at a manuscript that is less that 80,000 words. Typically, the novels you buy on bookstore shelves are somewhat longer (especially fantasy). So 50,000 words gets you half a novel. But for someone like me who is a short story writer, and who has had trouble writing anything longer than 20,000 words, it gets you some experience dealing with the longer form, which is a completely different beast than a short story.
I have gotten comfortable with the short story form. And I really enjoy it. I like packing a lot into a short amount of space. The two stories I have sold to professional markets with both short fiction: one, at 9,000 words, technically a novelette, the other, at 2,200 words, a genuine short story. In a short story, the trick is to pick the part of the story that conveys everything that came before and everything that will come after. You can go into back-story, but it has to be relevant and tight. In a novel, you’ve got a lot more space. To someone like me who thinks of himself as a short story writer, attempting to write a novel is like attempting to run a marathon after spending the lasts few years jogging around the block.
I read a lot of novels, but that doesn’t mean I can write one. My biggest challenge, I think, is providing the kind of character detail, back-story and actionto keep the story interesting, despite its length. Anyone can write a novel, but as a professional writer, I want to write what I would consider to be a good novel. I don’t want to just get 50,000 words on the page to say I did it. I want to be able to take those 50,000 words and in December turn them into 80,000 words that keep the reader turning the pages. I’m not sure I know how to do that. Writers I know say that the hardest part of writing a novel is writing the "middle". The middle is about where I’ll be come November 30.
To write 50,000 words in 30 days requires writing 1,667 words per day, every day. That’s about 7 or 8 manuscript pages, or roughly the length of a college-level essay, every day, Saturdays and Sundays included, rain or shine. I’m aiming a little higher: 2,000 words a day, which would give me an extra 10,000 words come November 30. But with a 4-1/2 month old baby, a family, and a full-time job, how is this possible? I’ve never been able to write that consistently before. I think that is one of the biggest values of the NaNoWriMo challenge: to demonstrate to yourself that you can write consistently day in and day out, even with everything else you have going on. So how am I going to approach this challenge? Well…
The office/library is just about set up in the new house. By tomorrow, it should be fully functional and in order. My plan for making time to write each day is fairly simple: I’m going to get up at 5 am and spend the two hours between 5 and 7 am writing, while the family sleeps. This is not as difficult as it may sound. I am a morning person by nature and getting up early holds no difficulty for me. What will be interesting is to see how quickly I can get started each morning. On the weekends, I’ll likely sleep until 7 am and then work from 7-9 am. The added benefit is that I don’t really lose family time.
But can I get started right away? Can I sit for 2 hours everyday and write? Will I have enough to write about? I hope that I have the reverse problem: not enough time to write what I want each day. When I am in the zone, I can write close to 2,000 words in 2 hours. That’s not often the case, but I’ve done it before. I suspect that the first couple of days will go pretty smoothly because I have all of the starting point ideas in mind and know generally where things are going. After the first few days, however, I suppose things will become more difficult and I’ll find it harder and harder to make 2,000 words/day. That’s where strategy and patience may help. If I can write 2,000 words/day for the first 5 days, that’s 10,000 words, when par is actually 8,300 words; so in essence, I’ve bought myself an extra day. I could write nothing for a day and stil be "on par". I don’t suspect that will happen, but I do imagine I will slow down a bit. Eventually, though, I’ll get used to the pace of 2,000 words a day and after the first 10 days or so, I expect to be comfortable with the pace and things will move better (I hope).
2,000 words a day (or 1,677) is a lot and I’m not sure if non-writers realize how draining this can be; after all, it’s not like I’m running a marathon, I’m sitting behind the blue glow of a monitor with my fingers dancing across a keyboard, and little else is going on. The thing is, I come away from these sessions feeling the way I feel after a good workout: exhausted and exhilarated. Writing is hard work, at least for me, and trying to write well, to tell an interesting story that someone other than me and my close friends will want to keep reading is even harder. Words of encouragement are always welcome.
I will post updates as I go along so anyone interesting in how I’m doing can follow along. If I run into problems, I’ll try my best to describe what those problems are. And in December or January, when I have a completed novel in my hands, I may even ask for some early "beta" readers.
So what’s the novel called? Well, I only have a working title at the moment, but it will do. For now, I’m calling it, Far Away Places. It’s a good title, an appropriate title for a daunting task as this one. November 30 seems like a far away place to me right now. On the other hand, it seems like it’s just around the corner.