Armed with trivia books and autobiographies of former Jeopardy! champs and lots of internet articles about Kids Week contestants, I plunged ahead. Each day in November, I struggled to figure out Olivia’s external and internal struggles and get them on the page in an exciting, coherent way.
To keep myself accountable, I blogged about the experience daily. This included my word counts and a fun trivia question. (Nothing like public humiliation to keep you on track with your writing goals!) My first blog post is here.
Despite a mid-month trip to California to attend our nephew’s bar mitzvah, I finished Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days. My agent likes me to point out that revisions took months. They did.
Olivia sold in February of 2010 to Delacorte Press/Random House and went on to receive excellent reviews, including a starred Kirkus review. I was thrilled when Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings told me his son loved the book, and Ken wrote a blurb for the back cover. I’ve even received fan mail from kids who were actually on Kids Week on Jeopardy!
So, here are 6-1/2 things I learned about writing a novel in a month . . .
1. Hard work is good medicine. Not writing, false starts and "wasted" days made me feel crazy. Working hard every day on this novel made me feel decidedly less crazy.
2. Know when to say "No" but also when to say "Yes." Writing should be your priority over watching TV, diddling around on Facebook and organizing your Chia pet collection. But family, friends and your health trump writing
3. Don't beat yourself up over unproductive days. Your brain might be doing important behind-the-scenes work. My "unproductive" days were often followed by fat page counts.
4. Don't forge ahead blindly. NaNoWriMo suggests you keep writing and not go back over what you've already written. Not me. I needed to go back down my writing trail sometimes to make sure I hadn't diverged from the path I'd created. The important thing to remember is don't linger too long on those back pages; forge ahead!
5. You can accomplish pretty lofty goals one day (page) at a time. What's your lofty goal?
6. A person can write a salable novel in a month. There is a list of writers who sold their NaNoWriMo novels, including Sara Gruen who wrote Water for Elephants, which landed on the New York Times Bestseller list. I was determined not just to write a novel in a month, but to make it to that list of writers who sold their NaNoWriMo novels.
So, don't give up! Keep at it! And if you do decided to step back and actually breathe this month, don't worry. There's always next November.
Donna Gephart is working on her next novel. It’s taken a little longer than a month to develop. Ahem, three years. But she’s almost done. To learn more about Donna’s books and presentations and view a funny singing hamster video, visit http://www.donnagephart.com.