Wow. Whoever chose November for the National Novel Writing Month challenge must have had a sadistic streak.
For starters, November hath 30 days, which makes it one of the shorter months. Mathematically, a 30-day goal may be cleaner to calculate than 31 days, but it does increase the tension.
Speaking of tension, in November most Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, which involves more than the day set aside for preparation and consumption of the feast. Depending on your role, you are also making time for housekeeping, travel, Black Friday shopping, tree-cutting, holiday decorating, and more that week — which also happens to be close to the deadline for the contest.
Many, if not most, of the participants in this project appear to be teens or young adults, working around school or work, or both. As a retired old fart, I’m an exception to that rule.
Even though I generally kept ahead of the 1,667-word-a-day pace for making the 50,000-word monthly challenge, I fell behind during the Thanksgiving weekend because family took priority. Some days I wrote nothing, some days only a few hundred words.
All this does, as we say in the news business, bury the lede — or lead, if you prefer: Yes, I completed the challenge and wrote 50,000 of a novel within the deadline. (Newsies understand deadlines.) It was a full novel, with beginning, middle and end. With some revision — and that process is covered in January and February — it may actually be publishable.
That said, it was what we called in my college days a unidraft — that is, you sit down at the typewriter (today, your keyboard), start writing and don’t look back. No time for a rewrite, although on the final day I did reread, correct obvious errors, and make a few minor revisions.
Without getting into too much detail, I did have a couple of factors in my favor. “Welcome to Betelgeuse” is an introduction to a fictional universe that I’ve been imagining and pondering for years. (Coincidentally, during November I opened an old file drawer and discovered a folder called “Betelgeuse Project” with printouts dated 1999.) Second, because of the nature of this universe, many of the characters I was using were already familiar so I did not have to develop them from scratch, although I did have to research them, so there was a tradeoff.
Some takeaways from the experience:
- The deadline was what got me off the dime on a project.
- It takes discipline to say “I’m going off to write now” and to do that.
- I write much better dialogue than action, and better action than visualized setting. Maybe I should stick to playwriting.
- Setting daily goals and keeping track of them helped keep up the pace.
- Now that I’ve completed a draft of a book, I should be able to do it again because “I can’t” and “I never” are not valid excuses.
- It was actually fun and I’ll probably try the contest again next year.