confessions / first-drafting / novels / other writers / revising / writing

The Month We’re All Writing Novels

I’m working on my novel now—yes, still—and, I have to say, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I’m at the tail end of this flu, and once my hellacious cough stops waking my neighbors and scaring small children, and once I don’t have to carry a box of tissues at my hip, I should be okay to return to my writing space. In the meantime, since I don’t want to spread my germs to all the other writers there, I’ve been made to write at home. At this moment you’ve caught me with all lights off except for my red-shaded lamp, Pandora on speakers, pages spread on the floor, laptop above… hoping it’ll click.

Lots of people are writing novels right now, since it’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I’m all for others doing it, even if I can’t get it to work for me. (Here, you can see my archives from 2007 when I tried it… and failed.  The pages I wrote were completely trashed, BUT the heart of that novel mutated and became something better: Imaginary Girls. No words remain from that disgusting junky draft, but I think my first pass at it had to happen to come up with something way better. So I guess you could say that my one failed attempt at NaNoWriMo wasn’t entirely for nothing then, was it?)

But, it’s funny, there are some who seem almost offended by the existence of NaNoWriMo. Have you read this piece on  I’m enjoying the comments, where people defend anyone’s right to write a novel. And why not?

If I could write a whole first draft in a month, my life would be golden. As it is, I write my first drafts slowly and way too carefully, and I carve deeper into the heart with each new draft. And there are many drafts—believe me. I can’t write without looking back—if I want something worthy of keeping, I have to look back and back and back until I get it right. This goes on line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and page by page. Once I reach the end of a chapter, I can move to the next. But this can take weeks. Often this means getting a nice and polished chapter ready only to have to cut it later. That sounds like such a waste of time. I wish this weren’t the case with me, but I’ve learned—through trial and error and whining to publishing professionals—that this is how I write and I may as well stop complaining and just do it. At least I know.

As a writer, what I like about NaNoWriMo, even if I’m not participating, is how so many people around me are focused on writing—often for the first time. I love the fever of it. I love the passion. It’s writing for writing’s sake, and that’s why I’m in this in the first place. Yes, I’m jealous of those who can write a coherent-enough first draft in just 30 days, but that doesn’t mean I can’t cheer you on, too.

I’m off to do some more carving to my manuscript now—oh, and down some more cough syrup.

So are any of you writing a novel this month?

21 thoughts on “The Month We’re All Writing Novels

  1. I really love this entry, even though I’m not doing Nano, either. I keep running into people online who take issue with the whole thing and keep warning participants that whatever they write for Nano will *never* get published. Which is a) only true if you mean the exact 50,000 words written in November — at least a handful of folks have revised those drafts and gone on to publication — and b) misses the point. Having grown up on fanfic, let me tell you, some people sure as heck aren’t writing for publication at all (fanfiction or otherwise). Some people really do just want to try it. Some people write *as a hobby* because it’s *fun* and not because they care about publication. (Like… Right now, I hope to eventually get published, but even if I knew for sure that would never happen, I wouldn’t stop writing; I’d just stop stressing out about it. Writing is something I enjoy doing, in and of itself.)

    Basically: arrrg. And also, what you said. And *also*, feel better!

    • Yeah, I totally agree that misses the point. For many, it’s a month of trying something new for the first time ever. And maybe it’ll make someone want to be a writer beyond those 30 days… to do the work of revising that novel or trashing it (as I did) except for a kernel and starting a whole new one. Or maybe it’ll be a thing to cross off a life list. Or just say you did because why not. What’s so wrong with that? Why should anyone else care if you want to try? And I also know that for writers who do write beyond the Novembers of every year, it’s a good month to try something experimental, or have a solid deadline, or just… see what happens.

      I really don’t understand why it bothers, um, “real” writers so much. Yes, writing a publishable novel is hard. I’m in the midst of a very tough spot right now and never once has it been easy. But that doesn’t mean I want everyone else to jump through hoops of fire to try writing their own novel.

  2. Perhaps against my better judgment, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time this year in addition to my other writing projects. (Post were I question my sanity here.) I’m kind of approaching it in a snobby way, I think, like “This isn’t my real writing.” But I don’t think I’d attempt it any other way.

    The trainwreck I’m currently writing for Nano is a middle grade fantasy, something I probably never would have attempted to write otherwise…so it’s like an exercise. Or experiment. Or exorcism, I don’t know.

    • Laura, I’m excited to hear you’re doing it — and, more, that you’re writing middle-grade! I love how you call it an exorcism.🙂

  3. I hope you are 100% better soon. I’m so sorry your battling this flu on top of everything else! 😦 And I would say that if the heart of that novel mutated into Imaginary Girls… then girl, you won Nanowrimo on a pretty big level dammit. 🙂 And I JUST TWEETED ABOUT THE NANOWRIMO BACKLASH! I do not get it either! Like of all the things to complain about, people are choosing that?!

    • Courtney, I just saw your tweets! I have to quote my fave thing you said here for anyone who hasn’t seen:

      NANOWRIMO NAYSAYERS: I’ll work on my book after I finish criticizing Nano.
      NANO PARTICIPANTS: [working on books]
      (via @courtney_s)

      That just cracks me up.

      Thanks for the get-better wishes. I’m doing constant tea + honey and lemon + cough syrup, hoping it helps.

  4. Nova! I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. I last signed up in ’03 and failed miserably; I expect I will again this year. But that’s okay. Like you, I favor slow and careful writing (not that I’ve written creatively in… a long time), but NaNo is a nice little kick in the pants to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. The Salon article is disheartening. I don’t think anything that encourages creativity should ever be considered a waste of time. READ and WRITE. You don’t have to choose one over the other.
    P.S. So sorry about your flu! Glad you’re near the end.

    • Jess! I’m so thrilled you’re writing a novel! What kind? For adults or YA or kids? I guess “fail” is a weird word. I know I said that about my own experience, but making any progress can’t be a failure, can it?

      And I love how you said “I don’t think anything that encourages creativity should ever be considered a waste of time” — I completely, completely agree with this.

      • Thank you for the encouragement! Don’t laugh, but I think what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo might be a romance, or at least “chick lit.” I thought something formulaic might make the challenge a little easier! Ha. I use the word fail only in the very literal sense of not reaching 50,000 words. Or, um, anywhere close to it. Maybe it doesn’t fit in with the NaNoWriMo rules, but progress is the real goal, I think.

        Side note: Last year (non-NaNo related) I wrote an outline and a few chapters for a YA novel — had to put it on hold because work got too busy. But I will definitely go back to it in the slow winter months.

        • Jess, that’s awesome. And progress is the real goal, you’re right. What’s more, you can totally do this! (And now I’m even more excited that you’re planning a YA novel too.) We must email about this soon. In the meantime, best of luck with NaNo. I am totally cheering you on!

  5. Well I might sound a bit mad because I’m trying to do a literary novel for Nanowrimo which sounds just wrong. I won last year, with as you say something different, a madcap fantasy about a housewife and a spaceman. I’ve finished the second draft up to 105000 words. This novel has been in my head for years and I’m writing it piecemeal, not chronologically which is also wrong, so wrong and will need so much work later but I’ve done a lot of flash fiction recently and find that my writing muscle is working well for that flowy prose kind of stuff that might just end up being what I wanted for this new novel. I needed a kickstart and am using Nanowrimo for that, it’s helping me formulate ideas as I go and get some words down. All of that will go towards something in the long run, even if like you most of it dies for something better.

    • I don’t think there’s any wrong thing to choose… it should be whatever you’re inspired to write, right? So, yay, Alison. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

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  7. The telling part of that Slate article: “As someone who doesn’t write novels….”

    Which is worse: people enthusiastically writing crap for themselves or people who get paid to write crap for others and decide that the only way to earn their keep is to find something popular and slam it? I smell sour grapes from a columnist who knows she doesn’t have a novel in her🙂

  8. I agree that I could never write a novel in a month; I had one month where I wrote 80 pages and that was bad enough in that I had to rip out most of it! But I think it’s a great thing for people to throw their hat into the ring and commit to something big backed by the enthusiasm of others. Why not?

  9. I’m doing my own personal version of Nano, which is where I try to get the novel I’ve been picking at to 50,000 words. I figure if I do, I’ve done very well. If I don’t, well, I wrote more words than I had before.


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