Thursday, October 06, 2005

Too Big To Kill

or The 74,000 Word Monster That Ate My November

1816: A lone scientist works late into the night, creating life from inanimate tissue. Horrified by the result, he tries to destroy it. Too big to be killed, the monster escapes, leaving a trail of misery in its wake.

2004: A lone writer works late into the night, creating life on the stark landscape of the empty page. The result is horrifying. Too big to toss aside, the writer grapples with its ungainly adverbs and cadaverous verisimilitude, trying to cut ugliness down to the bone.

Last November I – and 42,000 other aspiring novelists – participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Many would call writing 50,000 words in thirty days madness. I embraced my inner lunatic and managed 74,000.

How can you do it? Learn from Victor Frankenstein:

The Creative Spark: I had kicked my idea around for years, but The Deadline ignited my creativity. There’s nothing like pressure to focus your determination. (For more on the power of the deadline, visit

The Lab: I took time to personalize my writing space for the project. I thumbtacked potential cover art to a wall, along with a skeleton outline and support materials, making my little nook a special retreat.

The Assistant: Although Frankenstein worked alone in Shelley’s novel, there’s no reason you have to. Participate in’s messageboards. Support groups have been formed in many communities – join one.

The Monster: The 50,000 word beast is terrifying. Broken into thirty 1,667-word pieces, however, it becomes manageable. There will be days where you crank up the juice (my high was 4,482 words); there will be days when your feet drag (321 word low). Keep at it. You may be making something too big to kill, but you’re still the boss.

If you’re a new writer, here are some incentives to tempt you:
  • Habits form in twenty-one days. Stick with it for the first three weeks – you’ll have your writing habit formed – then skip a couple days for turkey and the post-Thanksgiving mob scene at the mall.

  • In On Writing, Stephen King says he shoots for 2,000 words per day. At 1,667 wpd, you’re knocking on his door.

  • If you’re outside the U.S., take heart. Like Frankenstein’s quest to recapture his monster, NaNoWriMo is international in scope.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel but felt unsure of yourself, don’t despair. Remember the message of countless horror movies: “When you think you’re alone, you’re not.” Based on past trends, over 50,000 people will participate in NaNoWriMo in 2005; about 7,500 will finish. Aim on being among them.

Even if you fall short or your manuscript doesn’t hold together, you’ll still be in better shape than when you began. Within your manuscript you may find dozens of parts that can propagate short stories of their own or be grafted into other bodies of work. Dig in. NaNoWriMo may be just what you need to transform your lifeless ideas into living, breathing works of art.


Blogger lindaruth said...

This is an excellent article, Chris. WD shouldn't have passed on it. And I just love at the end where you talk about taking parts and grafting them somewhere else -- I'd never really thought of writing as mad science, but there are parallels. :)

10:27 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Linda said: WD shouldn't have passed on it.

See, that's what I thought. <grins>


11:48 AM  

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