Tuesday, October 26, 2010

50K In 30 Days

The challenge: six days away. The task: to write a novel in 30 days...a 175-page minimum effort (50,000 words or more) from scratch. On the positive side, the "literary masterpiece" does not have to be the next Great American Novel. It doesn't even have to be complete, with fully fleshed out characters, plot lines or conclusions.

National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo) rather, is an effort by the folks of the non-profit Office of Letters and Light to promote the art of writing and push thousands (tens of thousands?) of established or would-be writers to unleash the great stories within them and let them run free...like our late Granny Beagle used to do in her puppy days, much to the delight of our Mapleton neighbors who watched my futile efforts to catch her.

On the flip side, the task is painstaking for people like me who set out to capture a nearly complete draft the first time out...without the benefit of a fully (or even partially) developed plot and character outline. Call me a dimwit, but I often choose the "road less traveled" - the one with large rocks, potholes, quicksand and multiple forks to really confuse the directionally challenged like me. I tend to write from the vantage point of a "plot kernal," taking a miniscule idea or character that "would make a good story!" and then writing about it with the hope/dream that I will be able to broaden it into something much more comprehensive.

This process often makes for slow, arduous writing. It also has varying degrees of success. When it works well, the spontaneity of the process is a marvelous experience where characters develop and tell their own stories, leaving me - at the end of a writing session - feeling like I've been the note-taker for my characters rather than an active writer.

And then, by comparison, are the many frustrating false starts, the ones in which my characters travel down the "road less traveled" until it stops at the precipice of a jagged and bottomless cliff. Picture Wile E. Coyote and the inherent mishaps that await him and you get the idea.

To give a better sense of what 50,000 words looks like, consider the 12 somewhat lengthy blog posts I've written during the last 2-1/2 weeks. Collectively, they account for just shy of 6,000 words...or 12 percent of the 50K goal. From a productivity standpoint, it can a bit sobering. Still, I am ready to embrace the NaNoWriMo challenge wholeheartedly on Monday and will try to match or better the 51,000+ words I wrote in 2008 when I first participated in the exercise. You can monitor my progress and offer encouragement and/or a kick in the literary pants if you notice in late November that my word count is woefully short of the mark.

Once this year's NaNoWriMo wraps up, I hope to use the November writing momentum to finally complete "Redemption," the novel I started in 2008, so I can begin the process of researching agents and potential publishers in early 2011.

Lastly, I invite you to join me in the creative process. Friends like John Holyoke have already started training in earnest for this marathon and I encourage others to do the same.

Each of us has at least one great fiction or non-fiction story to tell. It's time to tell yours!


  1. Thanks for the link, J.D. I'm looking forward to the journey ... (Truthfully, it reminds me of the days working on an all-sports weekly, when one day a week was "writing day," and we all sat down and pounded out a couple hundred inches of stories that we'd been putting off). Should be interesting. Alas, my real-life writing commitments will still have to be honored. Don't suppose I can count those toward my word count?

    John Holyoke

  2. I'm in. Not sure how well I'll do with an 8-week old boy and a needy group of sixth grade writers. I've decided to challenge my sixth graders to take the Youth challenge. I'm asking for them to commit to 5,000 words in a month. We'll see what happens.

    Andy Bean

  3. Glad to hear you're making the attempt, Andy, and kudos for trying to bring the next generation of writers on board. With a new infant son and a potentially whiny group of pre-teens, you're either Mother Theresa-esque or certifiably insane. Either way, best of luck and make sure to add me as to your NaNo friend list.