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National Novel Writing Month

I’ve had a reader request about my thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month thing, the annual event in which aspiring novelists from all over the country decide to bang out 50,000 words in the space of November. November has 30 days, so that’s about 1,700 words a day for each participant — a nice clip, if you can keep it up.

In a general sense, I like the idea. Generally speaking the most difficult thing about writing a novel is the actual writing — which is to say the process of sitting down and going type type type type until you’re done. I’m a big believer that anything that can help you enforce personal discipline is a good thing, and if it’s the idea of a “National Novel Writing Month,” well, why not. I also think that the idea of simply ploughing through 50,000 words in a month helps to demystify the writing process, and that’s a good thing. Once you realize that writing to a great extent is simply about getting the words out, it makes writing the next novel that much easier.

I don’t expect many of these novels to be particularly good, but I think that writing these novels to be good is secondary to the idea of writing the novel at all. One of the things I talked about at Torcon when I was on a panel for first-time novelists was the idea of writing a “practice novel” — a novel which you write simply to see if you can write a novel, and for which you have no other ambitions except for getting the damn thing out. I did it — Agent to the Stars is my practice novel, which I wrote just to try my hand at the form (I think it went pretty well). I learned a lot while writing it, and I think what I learned helped to make my second novel (that’d be Old Man’s War) salable. I think what people are doing with National Novel Writing Month is working on their practice novels, and that’s all to the good.

The one quibble I have with the event is that technically speaking, the word requirement is too short. In the real world, “novels” are considered to be works of 60,000 words or above. A 50,000 word piece of writing is a hefty novella but not a novel; in the real world, unless what you wrote was mindbogglingly brilliant, you wouldn’t have much chance of selling a 50,000-word “novel.” And possibly not even then, since book publishing is a business, and the business model of novels is predicated on 60,000 words or greater; I would imagine if a publisher really loved your 50,000 word piece, they’d ask you to bulk it up.

That being the case, writing 50,000 words, while substantially more useful than not writing anything, is still 20% shy of the full novel writing experience. If you really want a true National Novel Writing Month experience, you’re going to have to average 2,000 words a day, not 1,700.

But this is a relatively minor quibble. I like idea, because I like the idea of people writing and the idea that people are trying their hand at the novel format, if only to see if they can do it. If you are thinking of taking part in National Novel Writing Month, I say, have fun with it. If you grind out a novel in a month, good on you. If you fall short, that’s okay too. There are worse things than not writing 50,000 (or 60,000) words in a month.

Unless you’re on a real deadline, of course. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

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Country Boy

Living in the country has not affected me one bit.

Now, now, stop with the screaming. I’m just playing with you. I’m still the vaguely liberal high-tech geek with a degree in philosophy. Hell, I’m even wearing sandals at the moment. But I bet I had you going there for a minute.

Although for the record, people in these here parts are no more dumb than the folks you meet anywhere else. They do tend to have quantitatively and qualitatively less schooling than the people in, say, the Washington DC area, where I lived prior to coming out here. But as I’m fond of noting, just because you’re educated doesn’t mean you’re smart, and the converse is equally true as well. The folks around here are the same mix of people you get anywhere in terms of intelligence and common sense. Of course, I don’t blame people who think other people are stupid for how they look. I feel much the same way every time I see grownups dressing like they’re taking their fashion tips from the Bratz line of dolls. Which is, alas, happening with increasing and distressing frequency.

I’ve been a rural American for two and a half years now but I don’t feel especially changed by the experience, probably because my professional life is still deeply immersed in a techy and (yes) urban experience. My primary work contacts are in New York, DC and San Francisco, so when you spend eight hours a day communicating with people in those areas and on their pace, the slowpoke rural life is somewhat leavened. I do like the contrast, though. Occasionally when I have a phone meeting I’ll take my notes and sit on the porch and watch the tractors go by as I discuss marketing or financial brochures or whatever. It’s not a bad balance.

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