November is “National Novel Writing Month.” What that means is that thousands of intrepid writers and aspiring novelists are taking up the challenge to write a whole book in one month, or at least to complete a 50,000-word rough draft in those thirty days. That’s a pace of at least a chapter a day, 7 days a week, every week. I applaud anybody who’s attempting it, and admire those who actually can accomplish it. Alas, I am NOT one of them. Let me explain why.
From what I’ve heard, a lot of advanced planning and preparation is key to succeeding in the NaNoWriMo challenge. The author may not technically start writing the novel beforehand, but you can bet they have been thinking about the book for months. And they undoubtedly have the whole thing plotted out on paper before the month of frantic writing begins. That’s where I would hit my first roadblock. Plotting: I stink at it.
Most novelists fall into one of two distinct camps. There are plotters, and there are so-called “pants-ers” (i.e. fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants). I fall into the latter group. When I start a novel, I usually have only a vague notion where I’m going, and even less idea how I’m going to get there. I know it sounds like a crazy way to embark on a trip, but strangely enough it all works out in the end (so far, at least), and the journey is a lot of fun! This was especially true of my most recent novel, Return to Longbourn. My characters hijacked the story, kidnapped me, and carried us all off down a very unexpected path. (See the books debut post here on Austen Authors for more on that adventure!)
My other major issue with attempting the NaNoWriMo challenge is the concept of the rough draft – something else I’m no good at. The theory is that you just pour the story out from beginning to end without worrying about correcting flaws or fine tuning your prose. All that comes later, during rewrites. Make sure the story works first, then tidy it up. I don’t dispute the wisdom in this system, and I’ve tried to make it work… believe me.
In practice, however, I do just the opposite. I fret and fuss over every paragraph, every sentence within the paragraph, and every word of each line. I can’t seem to force myself to move on until I’m satisfied with the section I’ve just written. This means that when I sit down to work, I might spend the first hour or more rereading (and rewriting) whatever I wrote the last time, perhaps never getting to the next chapter at all! It makes for very slow going. The upside is that when it’s finally complete, my version of a rough draft is pretty polished.
Of course, the risk is that if I discover later on that the story doesn’t work (because… as you now know, I HAVEN’T PLOTTED IT OUT AHEAD!), it could turn out that I’ve wasted countless hours perfecting pages that have to be tossed out in the end. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened to me yet. Now that I think of it, that’s a minor miracle in itself.
So now you know why I’ve never attempted the NaNoWriMo challenge, and probably never will. If my crazy system of writing continues to work for me, though (fingers crossed!), I’ll have a new novel for you sometime next spring. It’s not going to be a P&P sequel this time, but a Persuasion tie-in with Jane Austen herself as narrator and heroine. (Visit my blog here for more about it and an early excerpt).
Stay tuned, and happy reading!
Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry or looking at his page. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 11)