5 Things That Writing a Novel in a Month is Teaching Me

I'm writing a novel. Or rather, I'm attempting to write at least 50,000 words of a novel, which is the requirement of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Last night I sat in Golden Gate Park, enjoying a couple slices of pizza while I thought about what I had learned through the first nine days, while also considering how many people running by thought I was homeless, since I was eating a slice of pizza off a brown paper bag and wearing sweats, a hoodie, and a toboggan. Good thing I didn't order a drink, otherwise people may have been throwing change into my soda cup. Nonetheless I've learned more than I even imagined.

As I passed the 18,000 word mark this morning, rather than sulking about how much money that would be based on the rate of my last assignment (Over two months' salary if you're curious), I instead decided to share with you some of what I've learned.

1. I'm not a novelist - yet. And maybe I never will be. I'm pretty rough around the edges. The last time I wrote fiction was seven years ago for a satirical publication at my college about two rednecks discussing philosophy in a bar. Not very exciting right? At least there's some substance to this story, as it's about a 28-year old guy who within a 48-hour period gets kicked out of his house by his wife, is fired from his job, and unsuccessfully attempts to rob a convenience store - all of which leads to an epic road trip down the Pan-American Highway. The act of writing fiction has come much quicker than I ever expected, since planning consisted of a one-sentence plot. An hour and a half into writing on the first day and I had cranked out 1,900 words. However, don't expect me to all of a sudden become a novelist or even publish this. If anything, it'll be something to work with once I fine-tune my fiction writing skills.

2. I am my greatest obstacle. I didn't think I could do it. While I've always said that I wanted to write a book, I didn't actually believe it until probably day four. Sure, I had said I could do it, but I didn't really believe it until I actually started writing. I also didn't think I could become a full-time freelance writer or travel for several months at a time, but I've done the latter and been doing the former for well over a year. If I want to do something, I can make it happen. I've removed certain distractions from my life to free up time to do this and haven't really changed much of my daily routine. I've actually added to it, since in the last week I've taken back up swimming.

The Painted Ladies (And oh San Francisco)
The Painted Ladies (And oh San Francisco)

3. What I typically think I need isn't really what I need at all. One of the things I feel like people so often say you need when taking on a project like this is caffeine and especially coffee. I don't actually drink coffee and have only had caffeinated soda a couple times this month. Like I mentioned, I really haven't planned much as you might imagine. I've made it a point to take almost daily walks, which is when most of my ideas come to me, at which time I take my notepad out and write down my ideas. At the end of the day, it's just telling a story. Most of us do this to some capacity every day, whether it's something funny we saw on the way to work, a scene from a TV show, or a joke.

4. I have the best support group in the world. You probably have some great friends and family, but I think mine might give them a run for your money, and I'm not even married, dating, or have children. From emails to text messages to tweets to blog comments to lunch to drinks, I have an incredibly supportive community, one in which I've never felt so much support from. Even people I don't know send me messages of encouragement as I'm writing. I've often said that we were created to be in community and relationships, and even a solitary task such as writing can't be successful without the people in my life who empower me.

5. Conflict is to be embraced. Have you ever read a story about a guy who went to work every single day, had a beautiful wife that met all of his needs and wants, raised two children who grew up to be successful professional athletes, and then retired on a private island? Of course not and if you did, you probably bought the book at a used bookstore in the "freebie bin" and wouldn't exactly be crying buckets. That's not interesting. Throw in a scandal, crime, or addiction and now we have a story. This has been the toughest one to grasp about writing and my life. I'm finally starting to embrace it in both arenas. My main character is about to start on this trip of a lifetime and it's really just too good to be true. I believe it's time to throw in more conflict.

Have you attempted a book? What did you learn? For those who haven't done a book, but attempted similar projects, what did you learn through the process?