‘Someday I’ll Write a Novel’ … Well, Now’s the Time


Novel writing [is] … a lifetime sport, one of the few branches
of the entertainment industry where you are allowed to have a
career long after you’ve stopped looking good in hot pants.

~ Chris Baty
“Novel writing [is] … a lifetime sport, one of the few branches of the entertainment industry where you are allowed to have a career long after you’ve stopped looking good in hot pants.”

~ Chris Baty

Sometimes I’m asked why I write a weekly column (usually the question comes from someone who’s listening to me moan, with deadline looming, that I have no idea what I’m going to write this week). One reason is that I love having the opportunity to bring important issues to the attention of the community and occasionally wax philosophical on nonpolitical matters.

But there’s another reason: the discipline. I know that every week, unless I’ve made other arrangements in advance, people are depending upon me to come up with something to share on the opinion page. If I don’t, I’m making life difficult for the folks who put together the opinion page. So, most of the time (I’m not perfect; there have been a few exceptions) I manage to deliver those 750 words each week.

You see, deadlines are wonderful things. I’ve written before about how they sharpen focus and force us to look at things in new ways. They also force us to get things done. This is especially true of writing.

That’s why I’m excited to share two upcoming deadlines with South Valley’s would-be writers.

First, the easy deadline. If you’ve got a great idea for a book in any genre, you could win representation for a year by a literary agent if your pitch is selected in the “Win Your Lucky Break” contest being held by Workman Publishing. Simply write your pitch, 100 words or less, and submit it by Feb. 1, 2006. Details and an entry form are available at www.passionintoprint.com.

Now the tougher deadline.

A Bay Area man, Chris Baty, founded National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 1999. Now it’s an annual event, held each November, in which people register to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It sounds crazy, but after I read Baty’s book, “No Plot? No Problem,” I think he’s got something.

If I didn’t have that weekly column deadline with the knowledge that people are counting on me to meet it, my column would slip to every other week or even every other month. Sometimes, you’ve just got to sit down with a blank page (made out of pixels or paper, doesn’t matter), feel the pressure of a ticking clock, and start to write. Otherwise, as Baty puts it, you’re doomed to be a “one day” writer: “As in, ‘One day, I’d really like to write a novel.’ The problem is that day never seems to come …”

Register for NaNoWriMo and you’re committing to getting 50,000 words written between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. Baty suggests upping the ante by writing a large check to a charity you dislike and giving it to a friend in a sealed, stamped, addressed envelope with instructions to mail the check if you fail to meet your deadline. Find a way to give your NaNoWriMo deadline teeth.

Next, just write. Baty correctly advises that it’s important to turn off what he calls your “Inner Editor” and just get words on paper. Baty’s law of “exuberant imperfection,” says that “the quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horrible and crappy.”

Don’t worry about verb tenses, spelling, punctuation, redundancy. Don’t try to be witty or have a grand, overarching theme. Just get it down. NaNoWriMo isn’t about getting a ready-for-publication novel written in 30 days, it’s about getting a first draft written.

Baty estimates that most people need to set aside 60 to 90 minutes a day to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. Some spread it out over each week, others cram it all into each weekend. If you’re going to take up the challenge, realize that you’re trading your leisure time for one month for the chance to say, “I wrote a novel.”

If you’re interested in participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, you can get more information at www.nanowrimo.org. Registration opens on Oct. 1. Sadly, I cannot participate, in part, ironically, because I’m taking a creative writing class that ends mid-November.

If you’ve ever thought, “I’d like to write a book some day,” but have never gotten around to it, NaNoWriMo might be just the deadline you’ve been lacking. Get it done, and you’ll actually have a book idea to submit to “Win Your Lucky Break.”

Now get writing.

Lisa Pampuch is a technical editor who lives in the South Valley with her family. Her columns occasionally appear in the Free Lance. Reach her at [email protected]


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