On My First Attempt at NaNoWriMo: Writing a Novel in 30 Days

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? I completed my first novel over an entire decade. I finished my second novel over the next decade. It took me eight years to write a novella. Granted, during the composition of all three of these pieces I was employed as a full-time public school English teacher–which may have been occupying some of that time I would have liked to have spent writing. But for the last decade or so, I have participated in NaPoWriMo–which is the poetry equivalent of what I am about to attempt. All apologies to my poet friends, most of whom take their poetry writing very seriously, but I find myself able to write a poem in a half an hour. On the other hand, to write 50,000 words in a month? That’s 1,666 words a day. I can’t do that in a half an hour! So, needless to say, I approach this endeavor with some trepidation. It feels a little daunting. But I am a retired gentleman now–and for the first time in my life, I have, during the month of November, NOTHING on the calendar.

I just have to keep pinching myself that this is actually a thing. Retirement. I don’t have to work. I’m receiving a pension. I understand how blessed and privileged I am–so I am trying, while I have all of my wits about me, to engage in as many creative endeavors as I possibly can, you know, to earn my keep, at least karmically. So I plan to write a novel in the month of November. How am I preparing for this thing? What am I worried about? What are my expectations? Do I have any idea what I will write about?

The fiction writing month of November is (or can be) a little bit more formal or official than the poetry equivalent in April. While the NaPoWriMo website is run by a single fearless individual, the NaNoWriMo website is run, it appears, by an “organization;” it’s an actual non-profit that takes donations and has a merchandise department, all kinds of ways to connect people to other writers, and all kinds of tools, documents and videos, and offers on discounted novel-writing software, to help people get their novel-writing on. Who woulda thunk that fiction writing would be such a popular endeavor? Everybody seems to be doing it! I’m not quite sure that’s a good thing. I’ll go ahead and say right now that it’s a good thing.

So, I signed up on the NaNoWriMo website about four or five days ago. It’s free and there’s no obligation to donate or buy stuff, but that was my first step toward making this whole thing a reality. And then I started checking out these web-based applications for novel writing. Even though I had heard of a software program called Scriveners, I have always been old school about the way I write fiction. It’s called Microsoft Word. It’s called word processing. But I started digging around and looking at these dumb little instructional videos, and I thought that, hey, there may be some tools in these programs that are worth considering. I think anything you can do with these tools you can do with a word processor, but these web-based software applications keep everything you might want to do in ONE place. Your character cards, notes or research, thematic maps, chapter by chapter or scene by scene navigation, super easy shuffling of parts, and quick access to any or all of these things without having to open up another doc.

How did Herman Melville do it? My god, thinking about the labor the literary greats from past centuries must have endured to create their masterpieces is nothing short of mind-boggling.

So I signed up for this thing called NovelPad. The jury is still out. One of the last things I want is to be learning a new software tool while I am attempting 1,666 words every day. The plan is to do as much tinkering with it as I can in the next 9 days before the writing officially begins.

And when the writing begins? I must say that at this moment I have only fuzzy ideas. I am not a “planner” when it comes to writing fiction–the whole thing is a discovery for me. The novelpad software calls my type of writer a “free-spirited pantser.” I start with a germ of an idea or a very slim premise–and then I just go for it. Only when the thing starts to take on significant girth–maybe 100 pages in–do I start to make sense of the shape of the thing and perhaps start “planning” where I want to go from there. But, as I’ve said above, my particular process takes a long freakin’ time–or, at least it has in the past. It remains to be seen whether that slow process was a consequence of time allocation issues related to work or whether it was a mode that I had chosen because it worked best for me. I’m banking that the former is true–and that once I sit down, words will just fly from my fingertips! Ha!

I am attempting to brainstorm in this last week more than I am accustomed to brainstorming or planning–but these are not detailed sketches–and I am not fully confident that the idea I am playing with in this moment is even viable. We will see. It’s preposterous–which worries me a bit–because I do not want the endeavor to simply be an exercise in silliness. I wrote in my notes: I want to try to make the most ridiculous thing not at all ridiculous. That, for now, is my preliminary goal–outside of writing 50,000 words in a month!

Stay tuned. Wish me luck!

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

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