5 Pieces of Advice for Those Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Novel Writing Month: designed to make would-be novelists guilty

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So this whole National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) thing has got you excited about reviving that dusty novel idea you've been kicking around. The challenge for aspiring, procrastinating potential authors is to scribble 50,000 words (roughly 175 pages) before the clock strikes twelve midnight on November 30th. Doable? Maybe, but it requires discipline, stamina, a solid premise and an extremely fecund imagination. Few would-be novelists possess all of those assets. Yet for those embarking on the trek, here's a couple helpful tidbits to coax you along the way. You've already lost a couple days, get to it:

  • It's a Great Idea, But I'd Never Do It  The first step to writing a novel: grasping how awesome the idea is, but then backing out before the actual writing is attempted. Author and Huffington Post contributor Jennie Nash describes the schizophrenic nature of the potential novelist, giving four reasons why she'd never take part in NaNoWriMo and five reasons why she still thinks it's a great idea for some. Here's a sample: "The odds of writing anything anyone else would want to read when writing at that speed are very low" yet the exercise provides writers a valuable structure and builds "discipline" by sheer experience.
  • I Tried Marathon-Writing Once...and Failed  If this is your second (third or fourth) attempt at a novel you're obviously not alone. But if you think you can master this exercise in stamina the first go around, you may be sorely mistaken. Heed the experience of The Washington Post's Jen Chaney who struggled mightily to churn out the words: "it isn't easy. I fell far, far short of my goals and ultimately gave up well before the Thanksgiving Day tryptophan kicked in. But it was still an enriching experience and one that allowed me to crank out a few chapters of a story that I was genuinely enjoying telling before, you know, I got lazy."
  • Writing a 'Lot Of Crap' Isn't a Fruitful Enterprise  True, just because you happened to find yourself in a "self-aggrandizing frenzy" and finally reached 50,000 word summit, that doesn't mean a single page of stuff you hurled at the document was worth reading. Salon co-founder Laura Miller rubs it in for those writers who scrolled through their documents after the binge and looked back in horror at what they found. She suggests a more profitable option: "Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers?"
  • Yes, Actually It Is  Making the case for writing "a lot of crap," Los Angeles Times writer Carolyn Kellogg pens a nearly line-by-line refutation of Laura Miller's Salon article. Her main point being that the exercise is "more fruitful than many things, including much of the fun, casual cultural consumption we regularly engage in." Among those numerous pleasures that "writing a lot of crap" is more fruitful than: watching TV, toiling in front of video games, languishing in front of Facebook or Twitter. Sure, "It might not be more fruitful than innoculating children in an underdeveloped village," but "the only thing 'writing a lot of crap' can genuinely be said to be less fruitful than is writing well."
  • Keep on Reading (That Won't Help You Write a Novel But), It Makes You a Better Person  The last piece of advice is one you've heard many times. But it's true. Reading is a great thing, and consuming a lot of stuff will probably make you a better writer. Of course, just voraciously consuming novels does not a great novelist make, even with the helpful advice from Boston Globe reporter Delia Cabe: "I can spot the readers right away. They speak with depth and feel comfortable talking about stories—fiction and nonfiction. They ask questions. When they speak, you listen because they have something thoughtful to say. And they don't wear earbuds 24/7. Those who do not read for pleasure seem lost and out of touch. They lack spark."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.