National Shitty Novel Month is Over
Yup, that’s why I didn’t post here much. I suppose I could have warned you ahead of time, but that would have taken planning and foresight! Which I had just enough of for the novel, and nothing in surplus for the blog.
I had tried this once before, years ago. I didn’t have much of a plan back then – only the vaguest idea of what I would be writing. It didn’t work out very well. Failing at something big like writing a novel makes you think you’re not cut out for it.
Luckily, I forgot that thought. And wonderfully, completing a novel – even a shitty, nonsensical, and in-need-of-years-of-revision novel – makes you feel like a complete writing boss. Like, a complete champion. Like, you guys should probably fear and respect me. And call me Lord Wordgunnz from now on.
Anyway, here are some thoughts about what to expect if you have thought about trying NaNoWriMo, but haven’t yet.
- First off, have an outline. Maybe not for the whole book, but the more detail the better. You just want to have thought through certain issues first and not be doing them as you put words on the page. You absolutely do not want to change your mind about the direction of your book and need to rewrite something, because THERE IS NO REWRITING when you have to do 50,000 words in a month. There is no going back.
How hard is it? It’s 1,667 words a day that you have to do. That’s about six or seven pages, depending on what kind of page you’re imagining. It sounds like a lot but it’s doable. I found it to be about two hours of work a day. I actually thought I’d get a lot done at work (ssshh), but that wasn’t the case. If I was lucky I’d get 500, which you can do over lunch, and the rest I’d do once the kid was in bed. I’d get a bit behind some days and then catch up on the weekend, because my wife was very supportive.
Get ahead in the beginning. Go for it, hit the ground running, do Future You a favour. Future You will thank you. Bring your daily word total down to a cool 1,400 words a day, or less if you can.
You don’t want to miss a day. You probably will (I did), but it sucks, because it means you have to do 3,000 the next day to get back on track – and that’s a lot of words. Even if you’re hung over, had 1 hour sleep and have meetings all day, you’re better off getting 400 words in on your phone on the subway than getting nothing at all.
The muse is fickle, my friends. Some days you sit down and barf out 2500 words as quick as… barf from a sick person’s barf hole (sorry, used up all my similes on the novel). Other days, you are pulling words out like teeth and you check your watch and it’s been two hours and you have 78 words (true story). You can’t plan around that, you can just allot a certain amount of time, and spend more or less depending on the fancies of the muse. But I did find, if you had a lot to get through (aka it’s the weekend), it’s better to do shorter spells followed by substantial breaks rather than thinking you can churn out words in a solid eight-hour block like you’re working the night shift at the Hemingway factory. Short controlled bursts, like they say about machine guns.
It should be obvious, but it’s important to not have any illusions about the quality of your writing. Your goal is not to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in a month, it’s to write 50,000 words. Most of these words will be shitty. Your novel will be shitty. That is just what you get. But the proverbial Shitty First Draft is a hell of a lot better than no draft. Don’t judge it, laugh it off and keep moving.
Final thought: the advice above is applicable to a lot more than novels, isn’t it? So whether you want to record a shitty album really quickly, or build a shoddy, unsafe house in record-breaking time, you know where to turn for hot tips!