Can I Call You Later? I’m Working on My Novel…

As you may be aware, November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, which is one of the most unattractive words ever), the purpose of which is to get people to write an entire 50,000 word novel in a 30 day span of time. Insane? Absolutely. And that’s why I like the idea so much.

As someone who’s said “I’m going to write a novel” more times than I can possibly count with exactly zero written novels to show for it (though I do have four abandoned novels in varying stages of completion), I’ve long thought that NaNoWriMo might be just the thing to get me going. The notion of writing 50,000 words without the luxury of time to obsess over how perfect they sound is a daunting one to be sure. At least it is for me, because I am an obsessive sort when it comes to fictional prose. Even so, this year I have officially signed up on the NaNo website with every intention of seeing the whole crazy thing through to the end if it kills me and I never sleep again (until December).

So, question time:

1. Anybody else taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Or have you done it in the past?

2. What do you think about approaching writing as an exercise in pure output instead of craftsmanship? Is this the best way to go?

Enlighten me. It’s Wednesday.

33 Responses

  1. A lot of things about thatI
    A lot of things about that

    I can see doing this as a motivating tool.
    “Dive in and go for it!”
    Why not?
    There is only one way to find out.

    My experience is that when I write that way, I can come up with some good stuff, but I always have to go back and edit. And edit some more. Time & again I’ve found that rushing a story to publication gets inferior results. That’s why I’m so glad I published my collection of short stories first as a home-made chapbook, because I was constantly rewriting parts of it until, when I finally put it out as a professionally bound paperback, it was vastly superior to the original.

    I definitely would not publish a 50,000 word novel that I had written in 30 days, but it might be fun, and, like I say, you can always go back and edit it later if you want to.

    Right now, I’m working on a novel which I believe is really coming along well, and I’ve found a comfortable pace of completing a chapter every two or three weeks, depending on my other commitments.

    Since cutting back on the amphetamines, I find that a high protein diet and lots of strong, black coffee carries me at a decent clip for 3 to 5 hours at a time, but unlike you young hipsters, I enjoy my sleep. Now, if one were able to dream up stuff for their novel while sleeping, that would be an advantage. I only achieve this about one third of the time; however, the rest of my slumber being occupied by nebulous cows floating over silvery moons and getting lost in my grandparent’s maze-like house; not particularly helpful.

    But, anyway, you should try it.

  2. NaNoWriMoI think approaching

    I think approaching it as an exercise of writing for a chunk of time every day, and writing as much as you can. If you don’t have the words for what you want to say, say it in the basic best way, and move on to another scene or point in the story.

    After november is over, Go back and spend those long nights with coffee chocolate and wine, editing, straining, rewriting, and making it beautiful.

    Happy Wednesday!

    ps. nice photos on Flickr

  3. Wow, that’s a freaking cool
    Wow, that’s a freaking cool idea!

    I’m about 2 days late, but I’m going try anyway. Finally I can write my incredibly Burroughs-esque novel!

  4. LameSorry to rain on your

    Sorry to rain on your writing parade. But this seems really lame. Here’s what their website says:

    Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

    Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from your novel at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

    “Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.” Doesn’t Anne Rice have this segment of the market cornered already?

    “To write without having to obsess over quality.” I’m getting a John Grisham vibe here.

    I guess if this was for charity then it would seem to be okay.

    But don’t we have enough crappy, boring, long-winded shit on the market already? Not to say that your novel will be crappy, of course. So, no. I don’t think this is really a good thing. But you never know. Maybe the next Anne Rice or Dan Brown is cranking out the next top-o’-the-charts monster as we speak, er write. Go get ’em Annie!

  5. I agree with Singlemalt — I
    I agree with Singlemalt — I like the concept, but they blow it by basically telling everybody to write badly. I don’t see why a novel written in a month can’t be as good as a novel written in a year.

    I would like the project better if they didn’t invite participants to turn it into a joke. I bet good stuff will come out of it anyway, though.

  6. Yeah, we have too many people
    Yeah, we have too many people doing this every month already. They’re called “bloggers.”

    On the other hand…

    This has the potential to inspire people to at least start a novel. Casting off the notion that it’s going to be years of drudgery is just what some writers need before they can dig in. Whether they actually finish in a month… Well, I hope they don’t. But if it’s enough to shatter that initial block…

  7. Hey, let write a…SAAAAAYYY,
    Hey, let write a…
    SAAAAAYYY, what gives?

    I didn’t read all that stuff about writing badly, being too busy off on my own tanget.

    Ahhh, rat’s ass. Do it anyway!

  8. Hm. Maybe I just don’t get
    Hm. Maybe I just don’t get it (kind of like how I just don’t get Chuck Palahniuk — it’s been awhile so I thought I’d throw that in), but I don’t think the point is deliberately writing badly. I see it more as a way of getting people to write. Just write. Because to my thinking, any 50,000 word novel produced in a 30-day span of time isn’t going to be staggeringly brilliant upon completion of the first draft, and I see it as a way of loosening myself from the stranglehold of perfectionism that often keeps me from writing anything at all. I’m certain that there are people who just do it for fun (which is fine) or because they’re crazy (which is also fine), and might see their creations as done deals once November is over, but personally, I think that if I make it to the end of the month, I’ll have a draft which I’m sure will need all sorts of revising, because editing/revising is highly necessary to creating viable writing (at least I think so), but at least I’ll have something to revise.

    So there’s that.

  9. Well, one chapter later, I’ve
    Well, one chapter later, I’ve given up.

    I just lack the motivation to write anything over a few pages, damned short attention span!

  10. Jam — you may not think that
    Jam — you may not think that the point is “deliberately writing badly” but that is exactly what the mission statement of this ponzi scheme is. They are the ones proclaiming “let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose.”

    This is what they want, nay, demand of you. Setting the bar pretty high, if you ask me.

  11. Decided not toI visited their
    Decided not to

    I visited their site many, many months ago and tentatively signed up, but opted against it once I got the official notification. Simply put, I evaded it this year because I have too many other commitments. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, though and I think it is intriguing and may yield some interesting results. I will keep it mind for another year when I may possibly have less on my plate.

  12. Ironically, when I first came
    Ironically, when I first came to this site a few years ago, LitKicks had a laid-back, informal atmosphere that seemed to eschew rules and grammatical correctness, and that is one reason I got interested in writing again after not writing for a few years. But, I soon came to realize I didn’t like that loose approach. People I met seemed put off by it. I was put off by it, too. When I read something I had written a month earlier, I was annoyed by my own broken sentences, misspellings, half thoughts, incorrect punctuation – it didn’t look “free” – it just looked wrong.

    To my delight, LitKicks has gradually placed more emphasis on professionalism without becoming stuffy or exclusive, to the point of challenging me to write better.

  13. 50,000 words in 30 days . .
    50,000 words in 30 days . . .

    That’s not writing, it’s typing!

    The way I see it, the last thing I need is to have people who might not otherwise be inclined to write a novel writing novels and flooding an already flooded marketplace.

  14. I love to hear that, Bill —
    I love to hear that, Bill — that’s *exactly* the way I see it.

    Back to the NaNoWriMo thing, it kind of reminds me of when I first heard of the famous Bad Hemingway Imitation contest that made the rounds several years ago. Now, of course a contest for the best Bad Hemingway Imitation is obviously asking for humor — but still, I was hoping for sharp, knowing, well-crafted humor. A good Bad Hemingway imitation should be subtle enough that you really think it could be Hemingway. Instead, the winners all tended to be really dumb, pun-filled messes — e.g. somebody losing their arms so they could end with the words “A Farewell to Arms”. Once a writing event (even a humorous one) invites dumbness, I think it leaves little hope for anything more than dumbness to come out of it. Except your piece, of course, Jamelah.

  15. I thinkI don’t need to write
    I think

    I don’t need to write 50000 words to write bad. I can do it in 5. I don’t understand everything I like or dislike — I try not to judge, because I don’t like to be judged — I don’t mind misspelling at all. Anyway fuck writing events. If you need an event to write, well whatever, do what you need to do…

  16. Writing from Force1) No, but
    Writing from Force

    1) No, but I’d like to, someday.

    2) Output vs. craftsmanship. I’ll be honest, I am in a class where it feels like the direction they take is more of “get it done” than “gee, this is awesome work”. I won’t mention the class (cough, Intro. to Creative Writing) but what I’ve found in such a class is that after the required writing, I’ve looked back and seen potential, potential story lines to novels. This won’t happen in the class, but maybe later on I’ll turn my short assignments into something greater. Now that I’ve seen that classes (or even contests) on writing can force you to put out work you might not have done otherwise, I’m not so averse to it as I used to be.

  17. Floor of the Damned
    Floor of the Damned (excerpt)

    Chapter 1:
    In Which the Author Establishes Purpose

    Everyone (they say) has at least one good novel within them. But the problem is that a novel needs to be crafted, and for most people that’s just too much of a bitch. A select few have the uncanny ability to spew words, vomiting phrases onto the page with the stature of pre-composed prose. But the rest of us have to edit. And that takes time — the resource subject to the strictest rationing. When the last hour on your card is punched, you’re done. There is no more. And if you lose your card, your life is suddenly over, squandered over a misplaced piece of paper. Ironic, the precious little time we’re allotted, considering the vast reservoir from which it’s drawn.

    Curious (and another example of irony, I suppose) how many “great” novels were actually unfinished reams discovered only after the author’s death. Time’s up. Turn in those papers. If you’re not finished… Well, don’t worry. No one ever finishes. You’ll be evaluated on what you’ve completed. “Egad… Seems he’s written a classic. Too bad he didn’t write more.”

    Too bad any of us don’t write more.

    I’ve considered myself a “writer” for several years now — over a score, in fact (which is literate for “twenty”). But where is my requisite novel? What credentials do I hold? I suppose I could offer my fountain pen for inspection and point out that, “I have a writing device.” But that would be plagiarizing the screenplay of Naked Lunch, which I plan to do anyway, but not quite so blatantly. Ah, Naked Lunch… William S. Burroughs. Now there’s someone who could spew. To heck with crafting. A novel just happens, like life. A beat philosophy, I guess. And that (among other things) is what made Uncle Bill’s work so damned cool.

    Everyone (they say) has at least one good novel within them. But what they fail to mention is that everyone contains an infinite quantity of abysmal novels, and an even greater quantity of unfinished novels, and a still greater quantity of discarded concepts*. But, ironically, that cesspool of undefined, unresolved, and mostly forgotten notions constitute the very fragments defining life. As for the polished novel that eventually gets published… Well, that just catalogs a select assemblage of dreams, contrived beyond recognition via hyperactive ego, a plethora of self-defense mechanisms, and more than ample input from Roget. So this novel that follows, spewed in the vein of El Hombre Invisible, is my cesspool. My defiance of irony.

    * Reference Cantor’s proposition of transfinites.

  18. I remember a fable, that
    I remember a fable, that Verlaine said upon first shaking the hand of Rimbaud; “Jesus spoke to Buddha in the form of an alley cat, ‘Your poetry…!’ he gasped and died.”

    [Or, Balinese sword dancers, killing themselves in the fervor — not that it’s relative. I could have invented the fact.]

    Just to say, despite my coherency or lack thereof, “Brilliant writing.”

    Chapter two is in order, or shall you post it on a later date in accordance to topic?

    “My defiance of irony.”

  19. beatvibe, I like what I’m
    beatvibe, I like what I’m reading here. Is this the beginning of a 30 day, 50,000 word novel, or the beginning of a work-long-in-progress that will take however long it takes?

  20. Sometimes, the words don’t
    Sometimes, the words don’t come to me for days or even weeks, but I never worry about it anymore because I know they will return. They always do.

  21. That made me think of this
    That made me think of this (from Milan Kundera):

    The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!”

    For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.

    One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.

    Though it’s not quite the same thing, I know. Being a writer isn’t really anything so exalted, I think, yet being a writer who writes well is generally (or perhaps entirely) undervalued.

  22. This is the beginning of what
    This is the beginning of what began as a 30-day, 50,000-word novel, but has stalled as 6,800 words that haven’t been touched in 2 years.

    Chapter 2 starts using unusual formatting, with narrow columns (in different font) running concurrent with the main narrative. So I don’t think I could post the whole chapter here, but I might post an abbreviated version.

    Here’s another snippet that I posted last May.

  23. beatvibe -To write a good
    beatvibe –

    To write a good novel one must be a novel person… and you are indeed a very novel person.

    It’s always a pleasure to stumble upon your writings and this piece was no exception.

    Thank you.

  24. Floor of the Damned (excerpt
    Floor of the Damned (excerpt 2)

    Chapter 2:
    On the General Lacking of Substance
    (abridged and edited excerpt)

    My cesspool isn’t the resource I had hoped.

    As I inventory the endless shelves of ready-made novels stocked within my consciousness (which by now has even less time remaining), I realize that they are abysmal because they are so utterly directionless. Essentially random scenarios accumulated over the years, connected… Connected only by virtue of residing in the same consciousness, it seems. Now, if I were clever, I would use this insight to craft a subtle but poignant metaphor, illustrating how lack of direction can gut a life of its meaning. Turn that around, and you have an implication of purpose. But it’s too late for metaphor. I’ve already come out and said it. Well, no matter… It was hardly a revelation.

    (I suppose I could have gone back and changed that. But since you’re reading these words, it seems I did not go back and change it. Or perhaps I did… Hard to tell what was there before. Actually, it’s hard to tell what’s there “now,” since I might still go back and revise it, even after writing this. But it’s all academic anyway, because regardless of how the previous paragraph ends up, this paragraph is sure to be omitted — which is a bit unfortunate because some of you might have enjoyed this linage of meta-drivel (which you are now not reading).)

    But the stories — or at least their elements — are all in here. Nothing missing, as far as I can tell. Apparently, it’s my purpose as a writer to give direction to these anecdotes. To order and relate these pathetic snippets into some assemblage that others will find meaningful. Or at least interesting.

    Where to start… I feel like David Byrne walking through some shopping center in Virgil, Texas, passing stores displaying my “undefined, unresolved, and mostly forgotten notions” (soon to be returned as defective). Are all my thoughts this vague? Certainly nothing substantive enough for a foundation. Perhaps it would help to introduce a character… “Hey, there’s Lewis!” shouts David.

    “This is fucking great,” she proclaimed, looking up from the sheets of paper in her hands. “It’s like… A book about within a book.”

    “You think so?” I respond (vaguely wondering how she managed to enunciate that word in strikethrough, but more concerned with etc., etc.). “I mean, you really think it’s okay?”

    She shrugged. “Hard to tell,” she replied. “I mean, with you writing this dialog, I feel like I might be biased, you know?”

    (Perhaps she’s a bit too cognizant.)

    “This is fucking great,” she proclaimed, looking up from the sheets of paper in her hands. “It’s like… A book about within a book.”

    “You think so?” I respond. “I mean, you really think it’s okay?”

    “Absolutely. Everyone has at least one good novel within them. (Etc., etc.) This is yours.”

    (Much better.)

    “I especially like the punch card,” she continued. “The rationing of time. That is a fuckin’ brilliant idea. I mean… Well, there’s not much point in going on, is there?” She dug into a front pocket of her jeans and retrieved a worn piece of blue stock. Her fingertip traced the rows of punched holes, reviewing a Braille account of expired moments. “This is mine,” she announced, her index finger stopped near the corner. “See? I don’t have much left.”

    I nodded. “Yeah, I suppose that makes sense.”

    “Looks like an hour… No, two hours.”

  25. What about the scroll &
    What about the scroll & bennies?

    I’m not as polished as most writers on this site… I’m not as learned as most writers on this site. Several times in the past few weeks I’ve been told I’m not a poet or a writer because I use ampersands & hyphenated verbiage & I write too fast…The wrong syntax, etc…& this was by people I respect…Seems to me, this contest is the exact opposite & the exact core of artistic creation at the same time, but again, I’m no artist, so who am I to say…It’s ironic, and that’s art to me…If a contest inspires you to think in some way you hadn’t before, isn’t that still inspiration? If someone in this contest writes an On The Road or Junky or Taming Of The Shrew, isn’t it still good? Whatever…I wrote my first full length novel…82000 words, in five weeks, but it wasn’t forced, it just came out, so I don’t know…I think it’s possible crap could come out of this contest, and I think it’s possible a real gem could come from it…But doesn’t the possibility of finding a gem make it worthwhile? I use & and /// and … so perhaps my opinion is moot, but it’s 2005 & I still hear creative output is just typing if someone can do it faster than someone else…Makes me glad Kerouac didn’t have to hear such garbage until he was past his creative burst, or none of us might be interacting today, as for me & my… I guess my days are numbered when even the experimental wordsmiths start debating over what’s experimental & can presume what’s a waste of time…

  26. beatvibe, I remember reading
    beatvibe, I remember reading that snippet before and I really like it. All I can say, just speaking for myself, is that too often when I read something like this, I like it at first, I eventually tire of it unless it goes somewhere. I started to say, “I hope it doesn’t just spin, spin, ever outward into space…” but then I thought, hey that might be a good way to structure a novel, ever-expanding, so the first chapter is like a molecule, the 2nd chapter is like a planet, the third like a galaxy, etc. until the last chapter is really way out there, but can also be seen as a new molecule in another system (I stole this idea from a book called Powers of Ten that was later parodied on a Simpsons opening scene). So, my original message to you here is, “good writing”. My second message is, “Eventually, give the reader something to hold onto,” and my third message is, “Maybe my second message is wrong.”

  27. I agree with “doesn’t the
    I agree with “doesn’t the possibility of finding a gem make it worthwhile?”

    Because you never know.

  28. Billectric, you’re absolutely
    Billectric, you’re absolutely right. And that’s why this stalled.

    I have a few ideas about where it might go, but I still have trouble when I step back and say, “Okay, that would work, but I’m not sure exactly what it’s saying, or if this is a good way to say it.”

    The Powers of Ten approach is definitely part of this — kind of like those Russian dolls (or whatever) that are stacked one inside of the other. But I don’t want readers to get through all the layers and find nothing at the center.

  29. “It” says (as if ‘it’ had an
    “It” says (as if ‘it’ had an audible voice) that you wrote this some 20 hours ago. I could have sworn (even a little bit in border spanglish) that I did not see this last night in my reply to your ‘other’ post (it is above this one.. last time I looked).

    Again, Mr. Weber, I hope not to grill you on this, so I’ll just end with the commonplace two-words: Thank you!

    But I need to add – ‘enjoyable’…

  30. mtmynd: “It” says (as if
    mtmynd: “It” says (as if ‘it’ had an audible voice) that you wrote this some 20 hours ago. I could have sworn (even a little bit in border spanglish) that I did not see this last night in my reply to your ‘other’ post (it is above this one.. last time I looked).

    I think there might be a glitch in the jsp. I posted a comment under my first excerpt that’s marked as “Published” (Nov 4, 8:46 AM), but isn’t showing in the thread (what=NaNo05&message=697245).

    Anyway, thanks for your comments!

  31. Why Not?Why can’t a 180-page
    Why Not?

    Why can’t a 180-page novel completed in 30 days be brilliant? It would depend on the writer’s talent.

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