Today begin National Novel Writing Month! Can we make an adjustment, please?
I love the idea of National Novel Writing Month. In November, people are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel by the last day of the month. But can we make an adjustment so that we are not setting people up to fail? A practiced writer can write 1666 words a day, day after day. A practiced writer, when sitting down and finding that the work doesn’t go, knows they can let it alone for a bit, go do something else, because if you sit down and it doesn’t go, it means you need to think something through before you can write it.
Can November perhaps be National BEGIN Your Novel month? And maybe February could be National FINISH Your Novel month? 50,000 words does not make a novel, in any case. The sweet spot, so my agent, the Awesome Laurie McLean, has told me emphatically, more than once, is 90-110K, (and I mean emphatically, as in, come in between 90 and 110K or don’t give it to me.) So someone who actually succeeds at NaNoWriMo, and turns out a beautiful gem of a 50K novel, is, again, set up to fail. (Unless it’s a middle-grade book, but that’s a different story).
If the plan is changed to beginning your novel in November, and finishing it by the end of February, then each day you need to write 750 words, which is much more do-able. Also, if you fall behind a day or so, you’re looking at an extra hour of writing, not two or three. For people who have real lives, trying to carve out enough time to write 1666 words a day is a considerable a burden. But 750, over 4 months? That is ideal in several ways. It is doable, first of all. Also, sustaining such an effort over time teaches a writer the job of consistently planning the next day’s work, and consistently writing every day. On the job training is the best!
Novels need to cook. You can have a beginning in mind, and then you start writing, and your character turns a corner and you find yourself in a landscape or a series of events that you did not foresee. (And this is a lot of the fun of writing! To find mansions within yourself that you did not know were there.) With an extra day or two, you’ll have time to look around and take it in, together with all its implications and possibilities. If, instead, you’re trying to cram through to get the 1666 words done, you may, first of all, come to a complete stop because you haven’t though through this bit, and so don’t know what to write about it. Or, you may write it more shallowly than it deserves, and leave potentially wonderful material unused.
I thoroughly support National Novel Writing Month. If more people write books, then more people will read books. More people will appreciate what goes in to creating a readable story. More people will be capable of casting a realistically discerning eye over all the kinds of storytelling we have today. And working on a novel is an exhilarating outlet for passion and joy. More of that! So, let us BEGIN, and talk about what we’ve got in February.