It’s November…Here we go again…


It’s National Novel Writing Month…again.

“The World Needs Your Novel” the event’s webpage proudly proclaims.

Amateur scribes everywhere are being encouraged to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard and bang out a novel, that most complex of art forms, in 30 freaking days.

I think this is very stupid.

I realize my opinion will not be very popular. But seriously, I don’t see the point of a 30-day deadline. I know some people need deadlines, but why 30 days, which is unrealistic.

Sure novels have been written in less than 30 days. Hemingway slammed out The Sun Also Rises pretty quickly, though not quite in a month. Kerouac penned On The Road in about 20 days, though he’d traveled for seven years, saving up his thoughts, before starting, so maybe that’s not a good example. And I don’t know if he finished any books in less than a month, but Isaac Asimov certainly was prolific.

So what?

There are the slowpokes, too: Flaubert and Larry McMurtry. Junot Díaz and J.R.R. Tolkien. Jonathan Franzen supposedly took years on Freedom and his friend David Foster Wallace took even longer with Infinite Jest, but those are tomes and it’s easy to understand why. However, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a slim and lithe work, took many years, and I believe his next (and most recent) book, The Dog, was also slow in coming. And I have a friend who’s been working on a novel about two lovestruck jazz musician college students for at least ten years!

In short, novels, like all forms of writing, can be born rapidly or gradually, with a few revisions or many. But I don’t see why you should try to make yourself write one in a month. You should take however much time and space you need. You don’t get medals for speed.

If you can write a masterpiece in a month, more power to you. I wish I were you. But if it takes you as long as Mitchell or O’Neill, that’s fine too. And I have a feeling that most great novels take a while. Remember what Orson Welles used to say about wine? It’s true. Maybe not about that particular wine, but it’s true.

My biggest problem with making it 30 days (why not 90 days, or six months?) is that this short-sighted deadline will encourage most people to quit before they’re really done, while thinking they’ve done it, they’ve done the same thing that Richard Yates or Amy Tan did. It’s 30 days. Did it! But you’re not going to look at it dispassionately and see what you really should do with your idea, because it’s over. It’s 30 days, after all.

So you’ll never take that work to the next level to see what it actually is. It’s your second and third drafts where you really discover what you’ve written. Often the real story’s inside the one of the first draft. Often the best idea is hidden in the supporting actor, not the star chewing the scenery.

But you won’t discover that in 30 days. Heck, when you’re finally done your first draft, no matter how long it takes, I believe you should set your novel aside for at least 30 days. Maybe a lot longer. Then reread it. After you pour yourself a nice stiff drink.

Those kinds of novels the world needs.

There are plenty of…the other kind.


One response

  1. After 20 years of writing novels, I am still a slowpoke, but I am getting faster. I set a goal for myself to write the sequel to my novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower, in a year. I won’t be able to finish all the multiple drafts by then, but I’ll be close. That’s the fastest I’ve ever written a novel. It would be impossible for me to write anything in a month. But I suppose the whole idea is that you get down the first draft and then spend a year or so revising it. I enjoyed this post. Thanks!


    November 2, 2015 at 5:45 am

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