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How Writing Your First Novel During NaNoWriMo Is Like Having Your First Baby
Two Kinds of Babies--a Child and a Book
I've wanted to write a novel since I first started reading them. Half-formed ideas came and went, but in college, a couple of ideas wedged their way into my brain and my mind's been pregnant with them since. That was 2002.
After ten years of gestation and several failed NaNoWriMo attempts the equivalent of Braxton-Hicks contractions, I'm pushing this baby out. I just have to push for 30 days and the next part should be easy (until it's time to revise). The crowning should happen around Thanksgiving. I'm sure I won't be completely done by the end of the month, but I'll have a book-like thing in my hands to mold and sculpt into something other people might want to hang out with one day.
Writing your first novel—and possibly your second, third…fifteenth (I haven't gotten there yet, obviously)—during NaNoWriMo is a lot like having your first baby. The similarities I've noticed include:
- You're either writing a novel or you're not. The characters aren't leaving your mind, even when you think you're thinking about something else.
- You're constantly informing people of your updated word count. It's really hard to refrain from doing it every. single. day. See my Twitter account. It's like smacking somebody in the face over and over and over with a wallet that's spewing pictures of your incredibly adorable kid in various stages of development, wearing a variety of costumes, and covered in Spaghetti-O's. You think they care. And you know you watched that episode of Family Guy.
- From the moment of conception, you daydream about what they'll be when they grow up, and how you really hope they'll make enough money to live very comfortably. You probably have a secret (or not so secret) fantasy that they'll be respected/famous in their field. Maybe they'll even be in the movies. I only wish that on my book, not my kid, by the way.
- You regularly wake up from a blissful sleep in the early hours of the morning, don't get to go to bed at all some nights, and are jolted out of hot shower/bath dazes because your characters are demanding something or there's a problem you know how to solve. They're going to scream at you until it gets taken care of. Also? You may forget to eat, shower, or change out of your pajamas. Go do that. Now. Thank me for the reminder in the comments section.
- You get a little bit competitive. When a fellow NaNoWriMo'er says he's broken 20,000 words, you aim to break 25,000. Their kid may have learned to sit up first, but yours will be reciting monologues by age 2.
- You try to throw out words of encouragement between scenes to people newer to the game. "Oh, the tantrums seem to calm down around the four-year mark! Just power through this first part with an optimistic attitude and you'll be fine!"
- The labor is grueling and painful, but when you look back, it was totally worth it.
- You give it everything you have and love watching it grow and change. Still, at some level, you can't wait for it to get out of the house and start supporting itself.
- You're afraid of making a single mistake. Terrified of choosing the wrong word, making the wrong chapter break, confusing details... What if you screw it up for good? What if everything isn't perfect?
Once people know what you're doing, they have no problem telling you how to do it. Even the ones who haven't written books. Especially the ones who've never written books.
The great thing about writing your first novel is that you can edit to your heart's content, so revise, revise, revise. If you goof, it doesn't matter; you can't scar your book for life.