September 20, 2012

A Novel Month

It's still September, but with Fall in the air many of us are already looking ahead to this year's round of National Novel Writing Month, the challenge to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.  Some of the old-timers are looking forward to it with excitement; some of the newcomers are rather more nervous.  Although I've done NaNo (successfully!) twice, I have to say I'm in the latter category this year, for a number of reasons.

In 2011 I forwent joining in, simply because I was in the midst of The White Sail's Shaking - possibly The Running Tide at that point - and couldn't spare the brain power for another story.  Therefore I'm a bit out of practice.  My writing has slowed - improved, I like to think, but definitely slowed.  Writing a thousand words in a day is a highlight.  The prospect of churning out exactly 1,667 words every day is, needless to say, a little bit alarming.

There are other reasons as well, having more to do with the story itself than my writing deficiencies.  I've already begun Tempus Regina (naughty of me, but I didn't think at the time that I would be doing NaNo) and have had trouble with it, though perhaps no more trouble than the beginnings of stories generally give me.  I can't remember: it's been nearly two years since I started my last "book," White Sail's.  I don't remember what it was like, so the experience is - pardon the really bad pun - novel.  Is this what having children is like?  Women say that if they remembered how agonizing their first child was, they wouldn't have any others.  Tongue-in-cheek, but I, at least, cry a weary, "Hear! hear!"

On the other hand, nerve-wracking as NaNo seems, it is at once helpful, enjoyable, and surprisingly doable.  It helps the author to break the ice - to get to know this new set of characters, to watch the story develop, to be struck all at once with a slew of ideas that might or might not appear in the final draft.  Maybe part of that is just the autumn atmosphere; who doesn't feel inspired when Fall rolls around?  But it is helpful, too, in that it doesn't give you much time to stop and bemoan future difficulties.  You've got a plot (they say it's optional, but I say not) and a goal, and now you've got to make something of them.  In a month.  So there.

I don't know about other writers' reasons for participating in NaNo, but that is my reason this year.  That impetus, that relentless whip-cracking, is just what I need for completing what I find to be the most difficult part of a novel: the beginning.  I don't know that I'll necessarily reach 50,000 words, although I have every intention of trying.  I don't expect that what I churn out will be earth-shatteringly beautiful - the first 50,000 words of The White Sail's Shaking were absolute and total rubbish.  But I think it will help, nonetheless.

NaNo being fun is, I think, pretty self-explanatory, but the "doable" bit is harder to accept.  I'm finding it hard to accept.  But I know from experience that once you get going, the daily goal starts to seem smaller and smaller.  However, several people asked about ways to stay on target and make time for NaNo, so here are a few suggestions.

bite-sized chunks

Not all of us can sit down and have 1,667 words pour through the keyboard onto a document.  If you would rather take it in smaller portions, perhaps you could work out a schedule.   Sit down three times in a day and write 556 words each time, or twice and write 834.  It all works out to the same amount in the end.

use time wisely

This is something my mother used to say frequently, and I think the only reason she stopped is that she knows it's been engrained into our psyche - not that we always do it, but we have her teaching somewhere in our heads at all times.  It is never not important to use time wisely, of course; I'll never forget the passage in The Phantom Tollbooth where Tock the Watch Dog is decrying the practice of "killing time."  Time is important and ought always to be used well.  For NaNo, this might mean getting up earlier or staying up later, or merely rearranging your time table to make writing easier.  Procrastination is by no means allowed, if you intend to make the goal.

keep calm and drink tea

The purpose of NaNo is not first and foremost to write 50,000 words.  The purpose, according to the founders themselves, is to make people put aside their excuses, get their rear ends in their chairs, and write.  If 50,000 words is not possible with your other responsibilities (and I do believe in other responsibilities), do your best simply to write as much as you can.  By the end, you'll still have more than you began with.  The sun will go on rising and setting whether your progress bar turns purple by November 30 or not.

...Yeah, I have a hard time with that one.  I tried to tell myself that in 2010, and everyone else told me.  I still fretted and agonized and panicked and crawled my weary way to 50,000 words.  My life can't go on if the progress bar doesn't turn purple...!


  1. I'm looking forward to doing NaNo this year. I've done it twice before, but, since I've done the YWP section, I could adjust my number down to something I knew I could handle. I plan to do the full number this year, however, and I know exactly what I plan to write - I've been planning it for several months already.

  2. These are great tips, Abigail! I've never actually "finished" NaNo, but I love participating for as long as I can keep up. :-)

  3. I can't wait!
    Ideas have finally been pouring into my head again, and I can't wait to write the scenes down. I almost wish November would get here quicker, but I do want to enjoy the rest of September and October. Besides, NaNo will be here soon enough.

    One of the things I like best about working on So She Dances is that music is such an important part of the plot, so I have so much more inspiration for scenes.
    I'm hoping this book will cooperate in word count with proper plot more like Hwinny's Story did and not leave me wracking my brain most days like Naji's Story.

    Here's hoping Tempus Regina cooperates for you. :-)

  4. I don't have the time to do the full NaNo challenge this year (schoolwork calls and I must answer!) but I'm thinking of setting myself a 30,000 word challenge just so I can be in on the fun. There's a certain adrenaline rush associated with that slowly growing purple bar!

  5. Thanks for all the tips! I enjoyed this a lot myself.
    There is such a thrill in watching that bar climb! I can't wait. I don't know if I should rewrite and double in length a story wrote three years ago, or start a fresh. Some say rewriting doesn't count, but what do you think? The whole story needs to be redone! :)
    I hope Tempus Regina works out! Is that what you will be nanoing?

    Best wishes this November! It is such a adventure!


  6. I successfully completed NaNoWriMo last year, but I cannot say that it was a painless experience. To be honest, I have a horrible problem with procrastination, and when my story doesn't seem to be flowing, I put it on the proverbial back-burner and forget about it for the time being. The result? Writing 9,000 words on November 30th last year. I'm determined to do Nano again this year, and while I hope to write 50,000 words (that unfilled purple bar fills me with a mortal sense of dread), my main focus is perseverance and good time management. It should be an interesting month, eh?

  7. I don't know what I'm going to do this year...and I probably won't know till late on the night of October 31st. I'm working on another Mrs. Meade story right now, which I want to finish by the end of October, and then I'm not sure whether I'll start something new, try to finish something old or edit something completed. If any of those things would fit into a NaNo challenge I might join.

    The two times I won—back when I'd just started writing seriously—I ended up with fragmented manuscripts that haven't progessed any further. The last two years I just used November for a challenge of my own that was less than 50K. One thing that makes it trickier for me now is that I hand-write, so I can't get an exact wordcount. (I tried it once and it is not practical!) If I try again I'll have to decide on an average words-per-page number and use that!

  8. Oh, I can hardly wait for the time when I can join the group of crazy NaNoers! I am really hoping to join next November - I'll be graduated then, and right now I am burdened with school. So Abigail, thank you for this exciting, inspiring post! And best wishes for everyone who will be participating in this grand event! I hope everyone meets their goals, that everyone can reach that wonderful 50,000! :-)

    With love and wishes for your writing,


  9. I am also excited for NaNo this year, but wary. I did it last year, but my writing wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be. I'm hoping that this year, as I have another year of experience, I will do better.

    And yes, I am cheating by working on my current novel, one in which I've already written 25k words. I'm just not really at the place to start another novel - I'm so deep in this one. :)


  10. I've been outlining my novel. I had already started it once and then realized I would have to delete it and start over. But it wasn't the end of the world, I'll do fine rewriting the beginning. I seem to have better experience with writing my beginnings.

  11. Kendra - I did the Young Writers program one year! I failed miserably, though: didn't have a cohesive plot, and I think my final wordcount was about 17,000. Eek! Then the next year I was in the main program, and I did much more preparation.

    Ashley - Even if I don't reach 50,000, I think it's worth it just for the fun of madly writing while so many other people are madly writing as well.

    Rhoswen - I'm looking forward to November with much trepidation: it can delay a while! I have so much research to do in the interim... I hope So She Dances will flow properly! I fully expect Tempus Regina to give me trouble. It seems better to expect that and be pleasantly surprised than to assume that everything will run smoothly and be disappointed.

    Miss Dashwood - School does have a very demanding voice, doesn't it? But we'll cheer you on if you set yourself a goal and write with us!

  12. B - The way I see it, it doesn't matter how you do NaNo as long as you don't take advantage of their "prizes" in the end. It just doesn't seem fair to do so if you don't play by their rules! But I say, using NaNo in order to meet a goal is perfectly fine. I'm bending the rules myself with Tempus Regina.

    Elizabeth Rose - I'm pretty sure that I am not physically capable of writing 9,000 words in a day. I look upon thee with awe. (How many cups of tea or coffee were you operating under?) That is definitely an incentive to be disciplined and not procrastinate!

    Elisabeth Grace - Ah, the inspiration brought by last-minute panic. If you do join, let me know!

    My sister-in-law handwrote her NaNo novel two years ago, and counted up the words herself. That rather boggled my mind, but somehow she managed it! I don't think I would have the patience to do it, though; I'd go with your approach and average words-per-page. Out of curiosity: is there any reason you prefer to handwrite?

    Patience - I'll be expecting you next year! Hopefully you'll have time then, and you can join in the challenge. It's fun, but not when other responsibilities loom too large.

    Bree - Oh, goodness, my writing during NaNo isn't nearly where I want it to be! I'm going to have to make myself not pay attention this year, I'm afraid. As far as your current novel goes: I'm about 14,000 words into Tempus Regina, but come November I'll make 64,000 words my total goal. (Eep!)

    Writer - I've dabbled in the outlining stage. My first NaNo novel I outlined in alarming detail; my last one I didn't outline at all (and suffered for it). This year I'm trying to find a happy medium!

  13. Thank you, Abigail, I agree! I made a decision to start a new novel...there is something so exciting and motivating with a fresh plot and thirty days to write it! I don't like to have a story idea too long without having it written, otherwise I get bored with it. But I almost never quit on a story, even if I am. Still, I think I'll wait 2 or 3 weeks prior before thinking one up. :)
    A tip I would give to someone is get ahead as fast as you can. If you can get ahead on the first few days, you will have some wiggle room for crazy days in the month. I finished by November 20th with 50k, and then got to putter about on the next ten thousand (my goal) the rest of the month. :) Just handy for "those days!"
    I'm also going to take a month and edit other work. I won't "write write" til November.
    I hope you have fun with Tempus Regina! I love the title....


  14. 9,000 words in one day is a boat-load, Elizabeth Rose! Don't you think so, Abigail? I couldn't even imagine doing that much! It would be next to impossible. But handwriting for NaNo and counting up the words (gasp!) sounds impossible as well! Oh my! What craziness! :-)

    I'm going on vacation this Friday with my family, and will be gone for ten days, so... I'll be back to these blogs after I return! And I'm bringing Elizabeth Rose's book, Violets are Blue, to read on the long car ride!

    Until then, Farewell!

    A fellow writer,


  15. I am still in the "to be or not to be, that is the question" stage about whether to join NaNo or not this year... I was quite amused by all the comments regarding NaNo (and it kind of excited me too, seeing all those others joining in!). Your post, Abigail, was really helpful and enjoyable to read on this subject, me being so new to it all.

    If I can bend the rules a bit and work on my work-in-progress "The Crown of Life" (which is currently 80,000 something words in count so far though a lot of it needs MAJOR editing or rewriting) for NaNo then I think I will seriously consider doing it, especially the possibility of being encouraged by all those other writers who're doing a challenge too at the same time. However, my goal is not to write 50k but to write as much as I can in the STORY (not words but substance) in the effort to finish the first draft this year, so I do not know how will doing NaNo help this time, though I do not think it will seriously hinder.

    I'm just curious, doing NaNo, do you have to keep up with with the website status updates or anything of the sort? Because I definitely don't want to be encumbered by internet use during November!

    But whatever my final choice (doing a personal writing challenge or joining NaNo), I definitely am looking forward to the month of November when all of us writers will whip ourselves to a frenzy of writing. Hurrah!!

    P.S. Oh my! Elizabeth Rose, you wrote 9,000 words in one day?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

    Full stop. :D

  16. Since all of you are wondering about the logistics of "Can we write an already started novel" I'm gonna let all of ya'll in on a little secret. Yes, they do allow it - on one stipulation. You have to have completed NaNo correctly at least once. If you want to write an already started, you'll be called a NaNo rebel. It's that simple. Don't ask me where I read this, it was a year or two ago. It was either their wiki or their FAQ. I like reading around.

    I highly suggest looking up and reading their wiki. It's very informative - and not just for completing NaNo, but for writing in general.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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