I just had my first baby and she is a hefty 223 pages. I conceived her over 24 days and she is already proving to be a thoroughly sassy child. Her name is “Status: Untilled, Moldy Heart.”
1. It’s harder than you think.
For me at least, it was really difficult to get rid of my inner editor while writing. Part of me wanted to reread bits and fix them (in which case I would minimize the screen as much as possible to write) and part of me was whispering this is terrible for a majority of the time. But in both cases, you really don’t have time to stop and consider those thoughts, even though they are negative, because if you waste time it will take you that much longer to get to sleep at night. (Especially as a college student juggling 50 other things.) I made sure I never stayed up past 2 a.m. and always went to bed by the time that would give me 8 hours of sleep, which will be scandalous to some of you but was actually an accomplishment for me, because believe it or not, last semester I stayed up until 3 a.m. multiple times. (We don’t talk about it…)
It was also hard for the sake of my Novel Writing class, because our professor wanted us to write from the seat of our pants. Besides the main plot turning points, we were not allowed to plan out anything. Many times, especially in acts 2 and 3 of the plot, I had no idea what was going to happen, which made staring at the daily blank page daunting.
*We used the program Scrivener to write our novels. Some people broke up their novel documents into scenes, but I did it by day. Turns out, almost every day I managed to write a mini story, so I ended up turning my daily documents into the chapter breaks.*
Finally, and most importantly, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult because you actually create a story that’s much longer than 50k words, which is the monthly goal. So what I ended up with was a very rushed version that time-jumped a lot to get to where I needed to be by the end of the month. As my professor told us, and as I now know firsthand, we’ve actually created stories that are more like 80-100k words.
2. It’s easier than you think.
Now I’m going to refute my previous points–because in every case, there is an upside. Don’t get me wrong, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult and you should take great pride if you do it in knowing that not only have you bested all the people who want to write a book but haven’t, but you’ve bested everyone who takes years and years to write one.
If your inner editor starts nagging at you (when it clearly shouldn’t be), just dash in something completely unexpected. Use the nagging thoughts to your advantage. Feel redundant in sentence structure? Start writing one word statements. Start writing long, winding rivers of words. Character falling flat? Create some huge drama in that character’s life. Make them react to a situation in complete opposition to how they normally would. Also, my personal favorite: are you stuck on a scene? Not sure what you want your characters to do next? Have them talk it out. Dialogue will bring their personalities alive and I guarantee they’ll think of something to do.
I am one of the biggest planners you will ever meet. I thrive on planning, I need planning in my life, I get anxious when I haven’t written things down. Maybe you’re like me or maybe a lack of planning is not that terrifying. Either way, know that the lack of plot planning is actually the best thing you could possibly do going into a one month time frame of novel writing. Trust me–I was told I couldn’t write on an already formed idea and I was SO SAD. I was frustrated, I was mad, I considered doing it anyway. BUT DON’T. DO NOT. Start something completely new. Trust me. I know exactly how you feel if that sounds horrific.
But the truth is, you have so many stories to tell. More than you believe you do. And the other truth is, if you’ve planned too much already you WILL get writer’s block. Plus, your planned story is probably WAY longer than 50k words and you’re not going to want to have to limit it or rush the story line that you’re already so attached to. You have complete freedom without a planned story because you’ve put no set-in-stone expectations on your characters or your plot. And the coolest thing is, your plot will transform and surprise you and you’ll love it way more than you initially thought you would.
Finally, your story will end up being rushed or not wholly complete because of the lack of time in one month, but that just means you’ll have endless more ideas by the time the month is over. (However, you NEED to give yourself a break before diving back in. At least a couple weeks. You want to look at it with fresh eyes.) By the time the month is over your plot is going to need some serious surgery. But you’ll also know and love your characters way more, so it’s exciting to consider delving in to better craft their story. It’s actually their story, not yours.
3. Your characters will do their own thing.
As I kind of hinted already, you will reach a point after the first week or so where your characters start acting and thinking for themselves. Think of yourself as an archaeologist picking up artifacts as you go. Pretty soon the artifacts have a much greater story to tell than the archaeologist does. That makes writing a breeze. Once the setting and external situations are established, you cannot plan for how or when the characters will steer off your neatly carved path. Just know that they will and they’ll show you some pretty cool places in uncharted waters.
4. In one way or another, you have writing patterns.
I’m a late night writer, but I also coincidentally switched every week. Weeks 1 and 3 I wrote later at night, week 2 I wrote in the early afternoon. (Week 2 is also the hardest, so I wanted to ensure I was getting enough sleep!) Similarly, you will find that you have writing patterns. Maybe you always write in the morning or maybe you can only focus well if you go to a certain coffee shop. I enjoyed changing my writing setting frequently. The cool thing about writing in such a condensed amount of time is that you find these things out about yourself as a writer much quicker, which allows you to better adjust for future projects and writing in general.
5. You pull from more personal experience than you expect to pull from.
I found myself pulling setting details or character action out of all sorts of random places. Your mind really is a palace of thoughts ,and you realize the full depth and reach of it while writing so rapidly. Since my story is realistic fiction I really enjoyed pulling from popular culture. Sometimes I’d be listening to a certain song or reminiscing on a memory, so I’d just stick those things into my story, and it usually suited the plot or characters! Subconsciously, I also included experiences or interests of mine that I never even intended to place in my story, yet looking back on it I can see the references. For example, the primary conflict originates around a talent show and I genuinely thought I was just pulling that from the air, when really I just spent a whole summer invested in America’s Got Talent so it’s no wonder that came to mind! That’s the cool thing: the story you write originates out of that particular time in your life more than anything, so you could try to write a similar story every year and it would never be quite the same, because you’re never quite the same.
6. You will grow incredibly attached to it.
I cried at the start of my last week writing. Because once all of the inner editor comments had grown stale from three weeks and once I had accepted that most of the word choice would be crap, I peeled away the technicalities to realize how much I actually adore this story. For a moment, I halted my critical eye and just looked at it as a dear piece of my heart. And it really, really is. Even if there are plenty of revisions ahead, I think it’s perfectly imperfect. It’s broken, just like me.
7. You will feel lazy and a bit aimless afterward.
…And as my professor said to me, ‘yes, because you are being lazy.’ (Although, considering I still have 50 other things I’m working on, I don’t know if I fully agree with that.) When it really comes down to it though, if you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing. Not just when you’re in the mood. And that’s a fact that makes me really appreciate this novel challenge. Because, just like life in general, the vast majority of the time we’re not in the mood to do what we hope to do. But you have to be relentless and persistent. It’s just like your basic laws of motion. To keep it coming out, you have to keep it up.
But also, you have to live. It’s okay to feel aimless and sad that you can’t write about your characters anymore, but you’ll get the chance to revise and dive back in later, and if you really care a ton, you can always write a series. I truly believe to be a writer you have to keep writing, but you also have to live. You can’t be cooped up all the time, you can’t expect to write every day of your life, you can’t be too hard on yourself. You need experiences to draw from, you need the other stories within entertainment to inspire you, you need family and friends to remind you what you care about.
Most importantly, the world desperately needs you. Not just your writing, but you with your unique thoughts and passions and talents. So as much as you love your books and your characters and your plot, take time to offer yourself to the world and see what the world has to offer you.
8. You CAN do it.
Stop speaking those lies. Stop making up those excuses. Because the truth is, you can. Anyone can.