Tales of a First-Time Novelist…

 

On January 28th 2008, twenty-eight days after putting hands to the keyboard, I met my personal goal of completing the first draft of my very first novel in one month’s time!

During the wild ride, I vacillated between times when I marveled at my own elation (quite literally, I was nothing short of shocked at how much I could enjoy the process) and times when I would have preferred to rub my palms against sandpaper than stare at the screen and wrench another 1,000 words from my constipated brain.

That’s the experience in a nutshell, but it leaves so much out. The takeaways for me were the lessons I learned about how to approach and enjoy any meaningful undertaking that starts out feeling daunting.

I found a few things to be extraordinarily helpful along the way. I figured it might be valuable to share the three BIGGIES:

1) WRITING IN JANUARY: Although NaNoWriMo takes place each year in November, I found January to be an ideal writing month for the following reasons: It’s a long month (31 days); it includes a 3-day weekend (ideal for catch-up); it’s cold and dreary where I live (so no problem missing the outdoors, as long as skiing isn’t your thing); and it’s still football season (which, if you’re the wife of a JETS fan, makes the play-offs less painful).

2) TRUSTY WRITING COMPANIONS: Mine are www.dictionary.com (and its cousin www.thesaurus.com); www.wikipedia.com; and www.bartleby.com.

3) A FOCUS ON ACTION OVER CONTEMPLATION: Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, calls it “exuberant imperfection”. As the NaNoWriMo website states, “The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly…By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.” And, I found it to be TRUE. The relentless drive towards quantity took my focus away from perfecting each line, and kept my sights set squarely on the action I had set out to do — WRITE.

Some reflections on writing a novel in one month:

What I come to love most about writing my novel “NaNoWriMo-style” (i.e. in one month flat) is this — AGONIZING is not an option. On days when I’m not “feeling it,” I simply don’t have the TIME to feel sorry for myself, get angry, give up, or (the deadliest time-waster of all) RE-READ what I have already written. I know that to do so means not finishing by the end of the month — not meeting my personal goal — and in effect, sacrificing however many days I have already committed to this insane project in the first place. I am not about to let all that prior labor and elation (not to mention, word-count) go to waste. And so, what I realize by Day 5 is that it isn’t the BIG GOAL (a 50,000-word finished novel) that keeps me going; rather, it’s the DAILY GOAL (of writing 2,000 words/day) that keeps me motivated. On the practical side, I have incentive to NOT GET BEHIND for even one day, as 2,000 words are more than enough to shoulder each day.  While maintaining my full-time coaching practice, I am writing anywhere from 2-5 hours per day (depending on the muse’s whims), pulling early mornings or late evenings before and after clients.  On the more emotional side, I come to see that while the big goal (50,000 words) continues to feel overwhelming (most of the way through), the daily goal (2,000 words) continues to feel doable — and MORE DOABLE each day I do it!

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is harder to write on Day 5 than it is on Day 1. Even though I begin Day 1 without so much as an outline or a plot (appropriately, I might add, as the NaNoWriMo book written by founder, Chris Baty, is after all, titled No Plot? No Problem!), I find myself flying through Days 1-4, charged up on adrenalin as well as Brie, hard salami, and imported olives (which I spy at the grocery store and jokingly fancy might make me feel a cosmic connection to one of the “Lost Generation“). I keep a log of REFLECTIONS as I write. Reflections from Days 1-4 include: “Getting such a kick out of the fact that as crummy as the sentence may be, it has never been written before!” “The best part of writing is losing all sense of space and time — when I turn around and 2 hours feels like 20 minutes,” “I’m enjoying laughing out loud as I write (nothing new here, as I’m always laughing at my own jokes)”……..and so forth. A plot starts to emerge slowly, and then…Days 5-8 HIT like the 20-mile “wall” in a marathon (many miles short): “Having trouble, words don’t flow easily,” “I’m dragging my carcass behind the keyboard,” and “It feels great afterwards, until I think, I have to do that all over again tomorrow.”

And so, as with most things in life, this one comes in spurts and drags…and spurts again. Allowing myself no weekends off is one of the toughest parts, and Day 10 marks the first time I miss my self-imposed 2,000-word daily quota, but I manage to make it up quickly. On Day 13, I reflect with joy, “I crossed the half-way point today with just over 26,000 words!” and by Day 20, I write for the first time, “I have a strong feeling that I can do this.” On Day 22, I reflect on the physical “toll”: “Exercise has suffered, as have the eyeballs…I’m trying to remember to blink as I type.” It is towards the very end, Days 24-27, that I pull back some, missing the daily quotas. In one reflection, I wonder at my reasons for slowing down, “Could it be I’m really going to miss this?…I think so.” At 3:23pm on January 28th, I type the final two words — THE END — and instead of what I anticipated (jumping up and down, painting the town red), I enjoy some quiet moments of feeling very lucky to have experienced something I’ve always wanted to do AND some twinges of sadness that this part of the journey is complete.

So what comes after writing a novel in a month? Some rest & relaxation, some enjoyment of weekends again, and one quiet afternoon I have planned to read the first draft from start to finish for the very first time. I have been told that a good re-write can take upwards of a year to pull off, so my work is cut out for me if I decide to continue this extraordinary process. And not least, I look forward to giving back. One of my favorite things to coach around with my private coaching clients is “how to effectively take on a challenging personal goal — something bigger than ever before.” I feel more energized than ever to coach others to GO FOR ACTION and enjoy the messiness of the ride…

Personal Coaching is an incredible asset…If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel of your own — or taking on another wild adventure that more closely suits your personal style — I am enclosing my loudest cheer of support and a warm welcome to reach out. I would love to hear from you!

To learn more about personal coaching with Jen, visit www.JZBcoaching.com.

To adventure!

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2 Responses to “Tales of a First-Time Novelist…”

  1. Peter Clenott Says:

    Jen: Best of luck with your novel. My debut novel, HUNTING THE KING, is coming out in April. Writing is a great pleasure. I used to do it in longhand, pencil in notebook, until I discovered the computer and spellcheck etc. I always liked writing early in the morning. Then I found myself writing at lunchbreak at work. I guess you do it when you can. Keep me informed of how you are doing. I know a very good publisher open to first-timers. Check out my book, if you will, on Amazon or Kunati Books. And tell your significant other to root for the Patriots this week. (Yuh, right)

  2. awalkabout Says:

    I agree with you that November isn’t the best time for NaNo. I had company in for the holidays and a lot of distractions. Fortunately, my husband was as dedicated to me completing the work as I was, so he kept the ball rolling for me a lot. 🙂 Congratulations on finishing your writing! Now comes the real work of editing, if you intend to submit. Good luck!

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