As a master procrastinator who nonetheless gets stuff done over time, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of pushing myself to write a novel in a pre-set period of time.
Still, the thousands of would-be novelists nationwide who participate in National Novel Writing Month swear by the method’s possibilities. Some publishable novels even result from the revised versions of first drafts written in a single month.
For the curious, let me suggest a couple of new books that detail precisely how you can write such a novel, with or without joining the “official” program. One is entitled No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, and it’s by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month.
Read Baty’s rationale for such a highly structured system:
The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen.
According to Baty, those who completed the program in its first year agreed with this conclusion:
We were only able to write so well—and have such a merry time doing it—because we wrote so quickly and intensely. The roar of adrenaline drowned out the self-critical voices that tend to make creative play such work for adults.
One of the crucial facts learned by Baty—as well as by many who have participated in National Novel Writing Month—is that writing can be a great inducer of flow. Flow, of course, is when time seems to stop, you’re being productive, and you feel “at one” with what you’re writing. Entering flow involves an achievable task that is just challenging enough to stretch your skills, but not so impossible that you quit in frustration. As Baty puts it:
Slipping into “the zone”—that place where you become a passive conduit to a story—exercises your brain in weird, pleasant ways and just makes life a little bit more enchanted. No matter what your talent level, novel writing is a low-stress, high-rewards hobby.
Another potentially helpful book is Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days, by Denise Jaden. Jaden's own young adult novels, evolved from quick first drafts, have been published by a major publisher, which is a good selling point for her method. Jaden recommends a lot of pre-planning, but also:
If your daydreaming inspires you to jump ahead to new places in your story plan, or to write a scene that you hadn't preconceived, feel free to go with it. You have a plan to return to, so you don't have to write your story linearly if bouncing around helps to keep your passion alive.
Whether writing is a hobby or your life’s most cherished passion, you’d do well to learn to let go and enter flow and, above all, to write without handicapping yourself with perfectionism.
For more on some of the concepts mentioned above: