A couple weeks ago I blogged about deadlines, or my lack thereof, and mentioned that as a way to gain a deadline, and if all went well, a finished novel, I was going to be participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. Well, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, started yesterday, and so did I.

The goal of the program is to complete a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days between November 1st and November 30th of each year. That means to stay on track you have to write 1666.666 (etc.) words each day. The NaNoWriMo organizers wisely rounded that up to 1667, I went a step further and set my own goal at 1700—that’s the kind of super over-achiever I am, what can I say?

Now, to be honest, I’ve really never been one of those writers who sits down at the same time every day, writes for the same length of time, and comes out with the same number of words. I will have (too many) days where I write nothing at all, and (too few) days where I’ve written upwards of 11,000 words. Mostly I’m somewhere in between, but for me a good writing day is about 2000 words in an hour or two.

For the record, I’m not happy with that. Though I honestly don’t think any writer can come up with 11,000 good words every day without pause, I think any writer can come up with greater-than-zero words every day, and 2000 words isn’t really that much.

That was my thinking when I jumped into the NaNoWriMo pool. Yesterday I had some family issues to attend to, errands and other stuff, and some inconsequential excuses, and HBO put more old episodes of The Sopranos up on On Demand, the bastards. And starting a book is harder that writing the middle of it, so I ended up with just north of 700 words.

On today’s to do list is this item:

> Write NaNoWriMo, at least 2700 today!

But, y’know, I’m writing this, a recruiter is supposed to call me later, I have some stuff to write for Steamcon—oh, yeah, I’m going to Steamcon November 19-21 here in Seattle and will be sitting in on two panel discussions, giving a Q&A for aspiring writers, reading a short story, and signing books, so please join me—I have to enter my Q3 royalty statement into my spreadsheet, that web site isn’t going to build itself, I need to put some effort into an anthology I’m trying to put together . . . I’ll try, people. I promise.

And here are my broader goals for the month:

At the end of November I will have a complete (at least) 50,000 word rough draft of a novel.

I will then spend a few months turning it into a first draft.

If I still like it after that process, I will try to get it published.

These are not terribly lofty goals, actually. This is something a writer can do. If at the end of November I have failed to finish an (at least) 50,000 word rough draft of a novel worth revising into a novel worth sharing doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means I didn’t.

And while I’m at it. Here’s a little bit about my NaNoWriMo book:

The title is: 7°.

I’ve been mulling over this idea for a very long time. It’s a fantasy novel with some SF elements, set on a tidally locked planet (one side always faces the sun). The human population lives along the “twilight band,” the space between the too-hot sun side and the too-cold dark side. They are in possession of a mix of magic and technology and are currently engaged in a major project, sponsored by a collection of nations, to build a ring of magical teleportation portals circling the planet along the twilight band. An unexplained peculiarity of the magic forces them to build physical gateways every 7° around the planet’s circumference. Expeditions run through a series of portals until they get to the last one then have to cross 500 or so miles overland until they get to the exact spot, 7° later, where they build the next gate. Since much of the planet is still unexplored, we follow our intrepid expedition across 500+ miles of uncharted jungle on a do-or-die mission to set up the next portal. The portals back are closed to them until they set up and turn on the next one—this prevents monsters, hostile natives, etc. from being able to flood back through the portal system to the “civilized” regions and cause trouble—if the next portal is established, the intervening space must be safe enough at least to move on.

That’s the basic SF/F conceit of the book, and the story comes out of the dangers and surprises encountered by the expedition attempting to cross the jungle and set up their portal.

I’m also taking this opportunity to try something I’ve always been drawn to but never attempted: an epistolary novel.

An epistolary novel is a novel made up of letters, diary entries, and other discrete bits of information, rather than as a strict first or third person narrative. If you’ve ever read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you’ve read one, and there are others.

And hopefully, on December 1, 2010, there will be one more.

Wish me luck!

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Pingback: NaNoWriMo: FAIL | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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