Sunday, November 30, 2008

What I Learned when I Wrote a Novel in One Month

One of my earliest memories is of dictating a story to my mother. This was before I could read or write. She remembers many of these stories.

I tried to write a fantasy novel in sixth grade. When the class was watching Ghandi I was writing a pathetic rip-off of Lord of the Rings. I knew it was bad at that time. But I still don't know why a bunch of sixth graders were watching Ghandi in class or what we were supposed to get out of it.

I wrote short stories in high school, shamefully passing for high school versions of Stephen King short stories.

Then I stopped writing stories. I wrote disjointed philosophy papers instead. Later I wrote slightly more jointed theology papers, then half-jointed sermons for a long time.

But the desire to write never quite died, and lately it's been burning something fierce. So I did woodworking for a while. When it was too cold and dark to make sawdust I read. Or played computer games. But the itch became somewhat severe. Two novels stalled around chapter three, and all I had to show for it was some serious gaming skills at Call of Duty and Knights of the Old Republic.

Then I discovered National Novel Writing Month. So I followed the rules and wrote a 50214 word novel. It needs serious help, but I learned a lot doing it.

First, it's possible. Probably not for everybody, but if for those who harbor a desire and a modicum of experience writing anything fictive, it is possible.

Second, it's work. My hands hurt every night (but I have bad typing style). It took a lot of energy all those nights when I didn't have much left from long days and rowdy kids. It wasn't always fun, but there were bursts and briefs of something akin to joy here and there.

Third, think of the pros, the big name authors, the best-sellers. Think of 90% of all the novels you've ever read. Those guys are serious craftsmen. They do not exist in the same world as you do. Even the trashiest romance novelist, the mass-market paper back fantasy author, the woman that did the adaption of a screenplay. George Lucas, even. Pros. Not in your league. Not in my league. Not yet, anyway. Now think of the most hackneyed, god-awful novel you've ever attempted to read. Still a pro. Still in another league, though he may be swinging in AA or even Short-Season A. But he can still out-pitch, out bat, and out run you.

Fourth, I have a seriously good wife. She drove me through this, making sure that once I sat down to write, laundry got folded, dishes washed, house straightened, and the kids told to "be quiet and go to sleep and this time I mean it." Every night. I wouldn't have done it without her encouragement. OK...I knew she was a good wife even before this, but her support was wonderful.

Fifth, first novels are good experience, not always good stories. In other words, while I appreciate your interest and encouragement, you most likely will not be seeing the words I wrote anytime soon. Believe you me, that is to spare your eyes as much as it is to spare my dwindling self-respect.

It was a great experience, but not for the faint-hearted. Like hiking the Grand Canyon. But unlike hiking the Grand Canyon, which I want to do again someday but not too soon, now that I've had two nights off of writing, I'm almost ready to start in again.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    If you would like to - e-mail me a copy of it.

    In college I wrote a lot more. I wrote a lot of poetry - that's one of the things I was known from. I also wrote a lot of humorous prose - short ironic stories of various styles (there was "Uncle Eric Storytime" - which was a series of bizarre "children's" stories - other humorous stories as well. They are are currently on my dead computer, stuck on a hard drive that may or may not work anymore).

    It's something I miss - but I realize that between blogging, sermons, bible studies, and the like, I'm still probably writing 5000 words + a week. A lot of my literary juices simply go to things theological.

  2. revalkorn said...

    The NaNo novel I wrote last year is a novel for which there is not a market. Who wants to read a romance about a conservative Lutheran pastor and a female police officer? But I understand the drive to write, and NaNo was the perfect prod for me to do it. I hope you'll stick with it.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Alan--you never know! But a romance? Not sure I can do one of those.

  4. revalkorn said...

    Legacy of a misspent youth in which I watched too many soaps and chick flicks.

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Just as long it wasn't a harlequin romance! No rippling muscles taunt under clerical collars!