November 2014 Bar Bulletin
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November 2014 Bar Bulletin

National Novel Writing Month:

How to Write a Novel in 30 Days

By Christina Schuck


It's November. Darkness descends, the rains fall and nothing but winter lurks on the horizon. It is officially the holiday shopping season. Awkward family and work functions await. The year about to end has proven long, arduous and uninspiring. The high hopes you held for expressing creativity as an attorney have long since dimmed.

Until now. November is National Novel Writing Month ("NaNoWriMo"). NaNoWriMo challenges you to do something crazy and inspired: write a first draft of a novel in 30 days. A novel is defined as 50,000 words of fiction.

Chris Baty, a writer in San Francisco, founded NaNoWriMo in 1999 with some friends, based on the theory that perhaps the biggest obstacle lying between you and the novel you've always wanted to write is a firm, yet friendly deadline.1 Although many would-be novel writers (like myself) dream of taking a year off to write a novel in a secluded cabin, in reality that will: a) likely never happen; and b) wouldn't work anyway. With all the time in the world in your secluded cabin to write your novel (and no hours to bill), you will likely do anything but write your novel. However, an aggressive deadline will force you to write.

Additionally, having all the time in the world to write your novel may even work against you. NaNoWriMo is also based upon the idea that the more you do, the more you can get done. Specifically, you are more apt to write your novel when you are busy working your day job and/or taking care of your family. Instead of thinking of normal life as the daily grind, think of it as the momentum you need to write your novel.

Writing a story with 50,000 words in 30 days takes preparation. First, you must find time to write an average of 1,667 words a day. To do so, you must not only be mindful of how you spend your time, you also need to be more efficient. Plan to lose some sleep and fall behind on November sweeps TV and your Facebook newsfeed.

Second, and most importantly, you must turn off what Baty terms your "Inner Editor."2 You know the Inner Editor as your zealous inner critic who requires you to correctly formulate an idea and perfectly craft its language before you are allowed to type it. Although the Inner Editor is invaluable to completing the final edits in your summary judgment motion, in this challenge you must leave your Inner Editor at your office.

You simply do not have the luxury of staring at a blank page all evening until the perfect opening chapter sentence comes to you. To reach your goal of committing your novel's first draft to paper, you must write furiously and fearlessly. Instead of focusing on writing "brilliant, eternal prose," you must take risks, make messes and follow ideas just to see where they lead.3 Editing comes later and outside of the confines of this 30-day period.

I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge in November 2005, well before I started law school. At the time, I worked a day job in education and played in a band several nights a week. I heard about NaNoWriMo while I was searching for a writing group to join in hopes of resurrecting an abandoned novel attempt. I read No Plot? No Problem! in mid-October and on November 1, I simply started writing a new novel.

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