I wrote a really bad novel and I’m not ashamed to tell you about it.
In March this year I wrote a novel. On the 1st of the month I had 0 words, on the 31st I had 53,297.
Pretty much all of them are terrible.
And I really don’t care, because I WROTE A FUCKING BOOK. IN A MONTH.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way proud of it, and no one, under any circumstances whatsoever, is going to read it. It will hide in my laptop forever most likely, but that was never the point.
The point was quite simply to write a 50,000 word novel in the space of a month, an idea pioneered by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo. I read his book, No Plot? No Problem!, while at Bali Silent Retreat in February and made a snap decision to just give it a go. His method is essentially to worry about quantity over quality, and not think about how good what you’re writing is. But having spent six years as a literary agent, my inner editor is more developed and even fiercer than most, and I had to go one step further in order to get her to shut up. I knew that if I had even the vaguest expectation of it being anything remotely decent I just wouldn’t be able to get the words out.
So I decided I was going to write a really bad novel, and I was going to revel in it being bad. Whenever I found myself writing a particularly terrible scene, with clunky dialogue and cringe-worthy sentences, I replayed Chandler’s words to Monica in Friends, about how she gave the BEST bad massages. I was writing the BEST bad novel.
And it worked. I ended the month with something akin to a book. There are scenes and chapters. There are characters. They interact with each other. There is a plot, in the sense that the characters move through space and time, although perhaps not in the sense that anything that interesting actually happens to them. There is a sort of climax, even if its not actually all that climatic (I have an issue in that I don’t really like putting my characters in any sort of real danger, or upsetting them too much. This is something I need to work on.)
But most importantly, I really enjoyed writing it. Yes, there were days when I had to forcibly squeeze 1,667 words out of a milk-crusted cheesecloth, and days were I didn’t get anywhere close to that amount of words, but there were also days when I would breeze past my word goal without even noticing it. Those were the good days.
Yet since finishing whenever I tell people I’ve written a really bad book, most reply saying “I’m sure it’s not that bad!” or “It’s probably better than you think it is!”. And I usually respond, “actually it is”. I spent six years judging other people’s novels, I know a bad book when I see it. But I also know that most first novels are pretty terrible anyway (the majority of “debut novels” are very rarely the first novel the author has even written; there’s normally at least half another manuscript hiding in a Finder folder). Writing novels is a skill that you have to learn by doing, and it’s a skill that I want to learn. One day I would like to write a novel that doesn’t suck, but not right now. Right now I just want to write.
So I’m planning on writing another novel in a month this summer, and joining in the official NaNoWriMo in November. Despite Chris’ advice, I didn’t tell that many friends or any family members what I was doing. I was too scared that I wouldn’t be able to actually do it, and would then have to suffer the humiliation of saying “well, I almost wrote a novel in a month”. But I did tell a few friends here in Bali, and took a great deal of encouragement from their frequent requests for word count updates, and impressed faces as the number got higher. Now I know I can do it, I will be sharing the whole process on here as I go through it again, and I’m looking forward to being part of the NaNoWriMo community in November.
I crossed the 50,000 word mark on the 29th March with an incredibly mundane sentence (“I have a proposal for you”) that in no way matched the butterflies in my stomach. I celebrated with bad pizza and even worse wine, which seemed pretty apt to me.
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