Monday, November 2, 2009


Tis the season for writers to crank out a novel in 4 short weeks - NaNoWri Mo, National Novel Writing Month.

I tried it last year. Never mind November was packed full of speaking engagements, copyedits for Comfort, and oh, yeah, Thanksgiving. I'd been asked to speak to a group of early college students who were participating in the NaNo event so I figured I should sign on too.

Since I knew there'd be days when I couldn't write at all, I didn't stress over the 50,000 word goal. I just decided to board the NaNo express and see what I could learn.

At this point, I should probably analyze the experience in a somewhat methodical fashion but that would be so unJoyce of me. So I will simply reflect.

Words were the "be all and end all" - several thousand a day; I'd put my fingers to the keyboard and tell them to fly. On one occasion, I opened one of my source books and wrote what I saw in the photographs - descriptions for the portraits of doctors and the hospital campus where my story takes place.

I described my characters' personalities, their interactions, the posters on their walls. I wrote scenes in which they fought, loved, and worried. But mostly I threw emotions and impressions onto the page. I wrote lots of disconnected scenes.

I kept thinking that, although I'd done a lot of research, I needed more info. And I needed time. Mostly I needed time!

IMHO, one cannot write a book without time. I need hours to reflect on the latest paragraphs I've written, weeks to unearth what I just realized I don't know yet, and weekends for research trips! I need whole months for unexpected subplots, quirks, and characters to emerge.

By the end of November, I did not have 50,000 words but I'd managed 42,000 which was not so bad considering the one missing ingredient - time.

Since then, I've had months in which the muses abandoned me entirely, weeks of exhilarating research, and days with fingers flying on my keyboard.

I finished my novel. I think. Mostly. Sort of.

My conclusions from last year's NaNoWriMo are:
  • Busy people get things done!
  • Having a goal and group accountability does motivate.
  • It was a great way to figure out my character's backstory.
  • The event is good for getting words on the page - but in the end they'll show up in an entirely different order.
  • Sometimes a month can feel like a year!

I'm glad I rode the NaNoWriMo express! And given the necessary motivation, I might do it again some year. But my goal for this November is to get last year's novel fine-tuned and ready for submission.


  1. Great analysis of a real writer giving nanowrimo a go. This is exactly what I'm hoping for- just words on paper, fingers flying. And it's good to know there are tons of other writers out there in cyberspace doing the same thing at (mostly) the same time.

    Now if only I had a source book of photos for inspiration!
    Thanks for the posting.

  2. Here's hoping you find that book of photographs!

    And here's to flying fingers!

  3. Congrats on getting it finished. I have two half finished in my computer. I have no inclination to finish just guilt when I stumble upon them. I am always amazed at how prolific some writers are.

  4. Nice blogging on reading riting(not writing) and research.. all the three are essential ones..
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