Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I wrote a bad novel in one month

(Or, the blessings of turning off your editor and turning on your imagination)

by Karen Harrington


I just finished the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo dares you to write a 50 thousand word novel in 30 days with the aim of doing more writing and less editing. So I thought I’d share four observations after this – my third consecutive - post-NaNoWriMo experience.

1. Many a good writing book will tell you that writing is editing. Alas, you cannot edit a blank page. NaNoWriMo forces you to put something on the page as if on deadline. Funny thing about we humans – we are quite motivated by deadlines. Remember staying up the night before your term paper was due and actually creating something reasonably readable? The same applies for NaNoWriMo. The deadline oriented challenge forces you to get something on the page that you would otherwise procrastinate about.

2. The desire to procrastinate looms over the writer. With NaNoWriMo, you get the full benefit of applying my favorite writing method, known as the BIC approach to writing. BIC = butt in chair. No story is ever created without serious application of this method. If you sit down to write, you will write something. Very often, while writing something you HAVE TO write, you will write a gem. And then another, one sentence at a time.

3. My third point has to do with competitiveness. Each of us is competitive to varying degrees. NaNoWriMo attracts hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists as well as published novelists (author Sara Gruen wrote her first draft of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS during a previous NaNoWriMo). That said, you are competing against other writers to see who will cross the finish line. NaNoWriMo has neat little gadgets that allow you to input your word count – and view the word counts of others. There’s something about seeing the progress of others that prompts you onward, makes you want to stay with the pack or charge ahead.

4. The final point I’d like to make about my NaNo experience has to do with self-doubt. Sylvia Plath once said “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” I think many would-be writers do not sit down to write out of fear that the writing will be no good. Well, all first drafts are no good. But they are often inspired. There are always parts you will keep and hone. Ultimately, I believe that no writing is ever wasted. It is always practice. Like a pilot who must put in numerous hours before earning his license and being allowed to fly solo, writers, too, must put in untold number of hours before any good story appears. This is why NaNoWriMo, and challenges like it, are so valuable. The practice, experience and permission to write a bad novel in one month is liberating!



- I wrote between 2,000 to 4,000 words a day to finish. I didn't know I could do that!
- This year, I wrote a novel titled Mrs. Boyd, which re-imagined Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, set in modern Texas.
- Much of this challenge allows the writer to create lavish character sketches and describing locations in heavily adverbed-detail.
- Retracing the steps of an author, chapter for chapter, was a terrific experiment. I would compare this process to an artist sitting at a museum, doing his own sketch of a Monet. Try it!
- I will continue working on this novel.

What do you think about NaNoWriMo? Have you participated in it before? Do you think you would like to?

-- Visit my blog to read the variety of novel first sentences by my fellow NaNoWriMo participants.

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, a unique and captivating blend of legal drama and paranormal suspense.

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