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November 1, 2011

Huzzah! ‘Tis November once more and that means the return of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an online phenom. It’s kind of a contest but you’re only competing against yourself. It’s more like an event. It’s free and their website is a kind of officiant. Participants attempt to write a 50k word novel in the month of November.

I’ve done it three times and though I’ve produced 50k word documents, the material I ended up with was rough and unfocused. But I will tell you this: NaNoWriMo is a great way to train yourself to write everyday. If writing everyday is not something you’re in the habit of doing but you’ve always wanted to give it a try, then NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity.

Here is a good math-model to follow: 50k words ÷ 25 days = 2000 words per day. Regardless of the month, you should try to hit 2000 new words every day. When you live this, the question becomes, what do I write about? I can’t help you there, but I can tell you this: think in terms of scenes. Write scenes. That’s how you build stories.

I’m not taking on NaNoWriMo this year. As it turns out, I’ve got my hands full with a writing project already–my thesis novel. After the thesis committee talks it over with me on this upcoming Friday I’ll spend the next two weeks working it over, cleaning up the sentences, polishing what’s there without making substantial changes, because, at this stage, substantial changes are not allowed. So while I’ve got to make sure it looks good for the archives, I’m also moving forward with overall improvement to the story.

In its current form it is a story told almost exclusively from one character’s point of view. Technically it’s a third-person narrative limited to one character and not that one character’s first-person point of view, but conversationally that’s the same as saying “one character’s point of view.” The thing is, our main character does not have direct access to all the things that happen in this story. But a small collective of ancillary characters could fill in the blanks for the reader. They could show us through direct experience what happened at that one place while our main character was elsewhere. These side stories could then be added into the novel as extra chapters, see?

My November is going to be a lot of rewrites to the thesis, polishing what’s there, strengthening the themes by improving the scenes, and all of it comes back to one good sentence after another. But I’ll also write these side stories and see how they contribute to the novel. And of course, I’m almost done with those essays.


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One Comment
  1. This is my 2nd year in NaNoWriMo, and I’m so excited. I technically didn’t finish my novel last year, but I hit 50,000 words, so I still won, right?

    I’m working 2 jobs this year, instead of just taking 6 classes, so I have no idea when I’ll have time to write. I’m hoping to just write what I can after work, then fill in a LOT on my days off. We’ll see what happens.

    Writing “scenes” is great advice. That’s generally how I write. I will map out a concept plot map, then write out the main points on that map, then work on “connecting the dots”. Its the most effective way!

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