Great news, everyone- I wrote most of a novel last month!
For the first time in my life, I successfully defeated National Novel Writing Month, with my final word count on November 30th coming in at 52.6k out of a necessary 50k.
I’ve still got a ways to go before “winning NaNoWriMo” becomes “finishing a novel.” But this was the hardest I’ve worked on anything in recent memory, and I learned a few things along the way that I want to share.
Here are my three new rules for writing, each presented in accordance with my new philosophy of just trying to have fun with the medium:
Rule One: With Apologies to Charles Dickens
I’ve always had a deep disdain for long-winded prose. Less is more, as the experts say. Why say lot word when few word do trick, am I right? Usually I’m the type of writer who’ll spend an hour looking for ways to cut pages down to paragraphs, and those paragraphs into sentences.
But that approach is the antithesis of NaNoWriMo, where the primary goal is to puke words onto the page at a blazing speed. No stopping to think, edit, or retool- just start typing and keep going until you hit the daily word count.
It was a hard adjustment for me to make, and for most of the month I felt like I was betraying my ideals as a writer. But damn if I didn’t end up with all the prose that I needed. Turns out, it’s easier to prune an overgrown word tree into the shape you want than it is to figure out the shape all at once when starting from a seed.
Rule Two: I Am God
I realized that whenever I’m writing a narrative, I get bogged down worrying about “realism” when what I should be worrying about is “credibility.” It’s akin to some advice an old musical theatre director once gave me about what makes a stellar performance: you don’t have to hit every note, as long as you can sell the song to the audience.
During NaNoWriMo, I did just enough research about the fields of aviation and exploration in the 1920s/1930s to make sure that I wasn’t writing something implausibly stupid.
And then I had to remind myself that I’m not writing a technical manual about the subject; I’m writing a pulpy adventure story that’s laughably unrealistic on its face. It’s going to be a little implausible, and the stupidity is half the fun.
I’m creating this world and the characters that populate it. It might look like the real world, but it doesn’t have to function using the same boring rules. Whatever I say happens in this world, is what happens in this world.
I am God in this world, and I can write whatever I want.
Rule Three: Screw the Rules
Outside of English classes, I’ve never really given a lot of thought to the rules of writing. All the guidelines for grammar, usage, and mechanics occupy some dusty shelf in my brain, and I rarely need to refer back. I’m pretty well trained in the art of proper writing, after all. I just do what what I’ve been taught to do, without thinking about it.
But that doesn’t always jibe with the authorial voice that I want to use.
Sometimes, the sentence that best conveys the tone and emotion I want the reader to feel isn’t grammatically correct, or it tells instead of showing, or it goes full Lewis Carroll because I was convinced that a certain word existed in the English language.
What I used to do was agonize over getting the closest “correct” sentence down on paper. Even though I know the rules of writing prose, I worry that if I don’t stick to them, everyone is going to think I don’t know.
During NaNoWriMo, I just started saying, “Eh, screw it.” I’m writing this novel to have fun, and the audience will be reading the novel to have fun. Nobody’s getting graded. End sentences with prepositions, split your infinitives, let a character say “me” when they should be saying “I”. It doesn’t matter. Screw the rules.
We’ll see how the finished novel turns out- but I’m definitely enjoying the writing process more now than with anything I’ve done in the past, and I certainly consider that a win!