Not that you need help. Actually, if you’re signing up for this exercise and you don’t think you need help… then the overwhelming odds are that you do. Need help, that is.
Because it’s next to impossible to write a publishable novel in 30 days.
That said… miracles do happen.
And I’m going to tell you how that miracle can happen to you.
Of course — and I’ve learned this from an onslaught of in-your-face feedback on this issue — a huge percentage of NaNoWrMo writers aren’t kidding themselves about the outcome — nor are they hoping for a miracle — they’re in it for the experience.
To learn. To immerse. To have fun. To suffer for their art. All worthy rationale to devote November to your project.
And a few are just kidding themselves.
NaNoWrMo writers come in two flavors: those who understand the underlying structure and theory of writing book-length fiction, and those who don’t. Ironically, it is the first group that isn’t kidding themselves about turning out something that will end up in a bookstore.
Just as true: the vast majority of NaNoWrMo participants aren’t in that group.
The goal is to hammer out 50,000 words.
That’s it. That’s the only stated goal. Anything else, goal-wise, is in the mind of the beholder.
Thing is, that’s not long enough to be a publishable novel, just as November isn’t long enough to write one. Not really. A few YA novels come in at that length, but genre and adult contemporary novels are usually longer.
But time isn’t the real challenge of NaNoWrMo. Discovering the true nature of a novel is.
So the first step in the process — the first healthy step — is to set your goal.
What are you out to accomplish during this month of literary madness? How serious are you about doing this thing right, versusjust going through the motions and discovering what you have yet to learn?
The latter is a noble outcome. Thing is, you can learn that stuff before you bleed to death from your forehead before November 30th.
You have a week to increase your chances by orders of magnitude. Keep reading, I’ll show you how.
It isn’t rocket science. It’s literary science.
Which is harder than rocket science, by the way, because it depends on someone else’s imprecise opinion. The only thing that is precise about writing a novel are the fundamentals of dramatic theory and structure.
Do you know what they are? If you don’t, you can’t make them up. Not in November, and not in any other month. Not if you want your manuscript to have a future.
If your goal is to bang out a first draft of something that will one day be publishable after subsequent drafts, then I have some valuable tools to offer you here.
If your goal is to write a publishable draft – period – during November, then this information is your only prayer of getting there. Unless you’ve already mastered the aforementioned theories and structural paradigm, in which case you probably have your reasons for your NaNoWrMo commitment.
This is about fiction, after all.
I actually think it can be done.
It’s a little-known fact that the rules of NaNoWrMo permit story planning and outlining before the month commences. Which means you have time create a springboard toward a signficantly higher level of success.
You can begin your NaNoWrMo novel with each scene planned out ahead of time. Outlined, tested and ready for your glorious words.
In fact, in spite of my own skepticism, I believe that it is possible to write a submittable first draft doing just that, and that you actually can do it in 30 days. But only if you know what you’re doing, if you understanding what your story needs to be before it will work. You have to know the game intimately, and you have to be able to bang out from 2000 to to 5000 words per day, depending on the extent of your story planning going in.
You can’t simply plan it, either. You have to plan it right. Which is why you need to keep reading, because I show you how to find that information.
If you begin planning your story on Day 1 — again, you don’t need to wait, it isn’t cheating to begin plotting your story now — then you probably won’t get to the actual writing until about Day 10 (if you do it right; fair warning — getting this right is the hardest part of writing a publishable novel), which means you have 20 days to write 60,00o to 80,000 words. Do the math.
Remember, you can start your story planning right now and get a week or more ahead of the game, leaving you more time — and a lower daily word count — once the clock starts ticking.
You wouldn’t show up on a vacant lot with a load of lumber and a snapshot in your head and expect to build a house that anyone would want. No, you’d have a blueprint, based on solid architectural principles. That’s the idea here, too. Show up on November 1 with a plan.
The question is this: do you know what you need to plan?
I’m going to tell you. Right now.
First, you need to accept and understand this: you can’t make up your own structural paradigm or linear flow. Any more than a first time surgeon can feel their way through their first operation without the benefit of medical school. Certain things need to happen at certain places in the story, and in certain ways. In novels and in surgery.
All published novels end up ascribing to a fairly specific structural model. I’m speaking generically — your story can be about anything you want. Anything at all. But it needs to unfold in a certain order, and in a certain way.
I’ve written about it on this site many times.
Read my story structure series, which unfolded in about 12 posts last fall. There are many other posts on story architecture here, too, including one you need to read even if you skip the rest. Read it HERE.
And I’ve written an ebook about it. In case you want the whole contextual picture in one place, and them some.
If you aren’t familiar with the principles of story structure, dig in. It’s your only shot. The odds of you blindly dumping your killer story onto the page in the right order, with the right timing, dramatic tension and escalation, are almost non-existent. Don’t write your NaNoWrMo manuscript with blinders on.
But you aren’t done. Once you know the nature of the requisite architecture, you need to wrap your head around a long list of more aesthetic facets of character, theme, conceptual power, scene execution and writing voice.
That’s why I said the odds are almost non-existent if you enter these 30 days without this base of knowledge.
That said — because I know you believe you are the one writer that can beat those odds — I can help you there, too. Click HERE to read what I named my #1 post of 2009, one that has been reprinted all over the internet because it holds the key to your best shot at having a successful NaNoWrMo, at least if you’re thinking long term.
I’m moving this weekend, so I’ll leave this post here a little longer than normal. Tell your NaNoWrMo peers, kick it around, and write your novel from an informed perspective.
A month of your life is a long time. Make it count for something beyond the experience. Make it the start of something.