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Gini Dietrich

Lessons Learned from National Novel Writing Month

By: Gini Dietrich | January 21, 2013 | 
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Many of you have asked me how my fiction writing is going, particularly because I made it public I was participating in National Novel Writing Month this past November.

Let’s just say I was very naive about the process.

The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month.

I accomplished that…gold star for me!

But did you know that’s not a full book? It’s only about 100 pages. For me, it is maybe a quarter of my book.

I understand, now, the point is to get you in the habit of writing every day and to move you closer toward having a book…eventually.

But I really thought I’d have a book that needed a good edit and a couple of revisions by the end of November. Then I could go get an agent and shop it around.

Nope.

If I finish it, it’ll take me a good three or four months just to get the story out of my head (writing an hour every day). Then it’ll need a good edit and a couple of revisions.

But I went and committed to writing Spin Sucks (the book) so the fiction is on hold for now.

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

  • Read fiction. A lot of fiction. And all sorts of genres…not just the stuff you normally read.
  • It’s a lot harder to write fiction than a business book, especially if you blog for work every day.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Just like blogging here every day makes me a good business author, writing fiction every day would make me a better storyteller.
  • November is a terrible month to take on a project like this. You’ll think it’s a great month because you have a few days off for Thanksgiving, but family doesn’t stop because you have to write.
  • I wrote for an hour every day. That got me to the 50,000 words, but if you aren’t disciplined enough to do that, consider you’ll have to spend at least eight hours every weekend.
  • Going into November, I had the story outlined in a notebook, but I didn’t do enough research or decide the simple things – such as character names – ahead of time. If you participate this year, make sure you do all of that beforehand. The rule is you just can’t have started writing…but you can do everything else.
  • Making it public holds you accountable. I’m glad I did because there were some days when that alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and I thought, “I can just double my efforts tomorrow.” But the fact that so many of you were holding me accountable got me out of bed to write that first hour of the day.

I’m sure there are lots more things, but the biggest thing was that 50,000 words does not a novel make.

The book will be finished eventually. I have started dreaming about it so it’s in my head and it needs to come out. But, for now, it’s on hiatus.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

110 comments
polleydan
polleydan

Yes. I agree on pretty much all counts. As a several-time NaNoWriMoer, I know it takes effort to get to that 50,000th word.I would also add: Don't worry about it being good or making sense. You can always go back later (after November) and tie up loose ends and add or subtract sections as needed. Good luck on your novel! I plan to focus more on shorter fiction pieces in the near future. 

Tinu
Tinu

Well if you get a good agent (since you probably don't have the time) you may be able to get a contract to finish enforce it's sold. Or you might have a blog where you do character back stories and excerpts if you're self-publishing. And ave you tried transcribing part of the book? Harder to edit but you can get the body faster.

dbvickery
dbvickery

i wouldn't know what genre to do. I went through phases from a teen until now having kids exiting their teens. At one point, I wanted to write along the lines of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Anne Rice and F. Paul Wilson. Then I had that martial arts phase, so I favored Eric Lustbader and Barry Eisler. Loved heroic fiction like David Gemmell. And enjoy Daniel Silva, Steve Berry, and David Baldacci.

 

Then I thought, what about some "boy growing up to be a man" book? That could be more personal, and I definitely had the tangents...but that felt a tad self-possessed, or folks just wouldn't read it (I'm just a normal guy that feels like he had several major decision points that shaped my life). And, it's anti-climatic by today's standards. I'm not rich...not famous...not dead - I'm just happy.

 

Kicking around doing more around my "Social Media Fitness" series based upon the parallels I drew with zone training.

 

Get my last daughter off to college in the Fall, and I might have time to crank 50,000 words a month - when the Broncos and Nuggets are not playing...and when I'm not playing tennis...or doing weekend getaways. SQUIRREL!

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

This is very easy for you because you only need 2 hours of sleep a night. I need a solid 4.5. 

 

I agree, writing a novel would seem to be way harder than writing a business book. I'm amazed at what Mr.Brian @ExtremelyAvg  Meeks just did. He published something close to a chapter a day for 44 chapters. It was fun to read, got the heartbeat up, and it held together. I'm not sure if that's the ideal way to write a novel, but hats off to Brian. 

 

Anyone who wants a fun read, it's here: http://ow.ly/h0t5E 

 

I commented on it occasionally, and DM'd Brian for typos and such. So now I can say I helped edit a novel, and that's the closest I want to come to writing one. :) 

bdorman264
bdorman264

Oh, I heard you were a pretty good 'storyteller' all right.......your mother told me......

 

Send me that thing, I'll fix it up and shop that sumbich around; you'll be more famous than Bones. 

 

So if 50,000 is 100 pages, Stephen King's 11/22/63 must have been 425,000, huh? Hey, you're 99 pages ahead of me........

 

Good luck, can't wait to see the finished product. 

Keena Lykins
Keena Lykins

Gini, I think we all go into our first novel thinking, "this will be easy." Then we are all shocked and surprised how hard it is to write fiction, much less good fiction. Keep at it. You can't revise if you don't finish that first draft.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Thanks for the update! I am already unclear how you accomplish so much with your time. And now mention of a 4:30 alarm?!? You are a force of nature!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I heard the first Harry Potter was written in 18 days. The second one in just 22. Brian Solis wrote his last book in 12 days. Brogan? 6. I heard @dannybrown is spending just 4 on the influence book.

 

You should take my speed writing course. You are clearly are the superior story teller you just need clerical help!

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

Several of the published fiction novelists I know personally have a similar story, and it is one of four or five or six finished novels that never saw the light of day.

 

When I was competing seriously in judo, I had an instructor from Japan who used to say "do it correctly 100 times per day for 100 days."

 

Discipline. That's was National Novel Writing Month brings to the table - proof that you can write 1,500 or 2,000 words per day.

 

But the second part is the hard part. There's an adage - there is no good writing, only good rewriting.

 

Butt in chair discipline is part one. Editing discipline is part two, and not quite as sexy.

Latest blog post: Livefyre Conversation

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Tinu I can't think unless I type so it's actually faster for me to write than to talk it. That's an interesting thought though...I wonder if I could make that work on those nights I dream about it and need to get it out of my head. Also, my sense is to get an agent I have to prove myself first. For most first time novelists, that's in the form of the actual book. With the business side of things, it was easy to do because I'd spent so much time proving myself with the blog.

Latest blog post: The NHL as Social Object

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @dbvickery I'd think less about genre and more about what kind of story you have in your head. Kind of like you did with the "boy growing up to be a man" book idea. For mine, I was inspired by something that happened in the news and I suddenly had an idea for a novel.

Latest blog post: The NHL as Social Object

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @barrettrossie You helped a bunch, both in pointing out that Honda makes the accord, not Toyota, and also in cheering me along.

 

If one doesn't mind showing their warts, it is a great way to write a novel. Having the readers there with you makes the ride so much more pleasant.

Latest blog post: Indecision

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @RebeccaTodd Between you and me...I'm getting a little burned out. I was sick during the holidays so I didn't get to do the things I really wanted to do with my time off. One of my goals this year is to work only 12 hour days. I'm averaging 18 right now. It's not good. I think I need to learn how to say no.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @HowieG I wrote 45,000 words of Two Decades and Counting in 21 days and I was sick for three of them. My latest, Touched, took 46 days, and came in at just over 60,000 words, in 46 days..  Stephen King, in his fantastic book, On Writing, recommends 2,000 words per day. At that pace, a 50,000 word novel would take only 25 days.

 

Conversely, my first Henry Wood took around 8 months, which is the longest. Some authors take 10 years to finish a novel. I'm not sure that speed matters. As for length, I tend to write until the story gets to the end, but since I don't bother to outlines or plan, the arrival of the final chapter is often a surprise. I thought my fourth Henry Wood was going to be around 60K and it didn't wrap up until 100K

 

I can't imagine doing much writing while working all the hours Gini puts in, because the days I work (2 per week) usually wipe me out.

 

I think the key for any piece of fiction is to start and get the first chapter. When that is done, write the second one. If one keeps doing this, without stressing about anything but the next part of the story, they will find that eventually they get to the end. Then hire and editor, cover artist, and decide if you want to publish or shop it.

Latest blog post: Indecision

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

@ClayMorgan

That old adage likely came from a literature professor who couldn't write, probably had little ability to do math, and was trying to ruin his or her students before they got started out of spite.

 

Editing is important, for mistakes, but telling people they need to rewrite the story half a dozen times is a tool used to keep people from trying. I read the 1st, 2nd, and 4th version of a friend's work. I didn't bother with the 3rd, 5th or 6th. The first was easily the best of the bunch, though all of them weren't very good. The point is, she had a fair book after one try. After six, she had 5 versions that were dreadful, and one that was fair.

Latest blog post: Indecision

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @ClayMorgan Yeah that editing part doesn't sound so much fun. I know how much fun it is in a business book (not). Also, I have an email half-started to you. I am pulling some things for you that I think will be helpful. So not ignoring you!

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@ginidietrich @bdorman264 hah I saw her at the Golden Globes and thought hey it's Gini!

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@ginidietrich not good at all!!! There are limits for all of us, even Roboboss!

Katjaib
Katjaib

 @ExtremelyAvg  @HowieG 45k words in 21 days??? That is just obnoxious! If you were my friend, I'd have to unfriend you. hahaha. 

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

 @ExtremelyAvg We'll have to agree to disagree. A good editor, viewing an article, story, novel or whatever, with an impartial eye, will find not only mistakes, but inconsistencies, holes in a story, weak or cliche plot lines, or ways to refine the story telling process or offer ideas to strengthen leads, conclusions, prevent the middle from bogging down, etc.

 

While plenty of people may have a fair book/article/story after one try, I find that very few have something of publishable quality after one try.

Latest blog post: Livefyre Conversation

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @ginidietrich  @rdopping Some would say writing advertising is "creative fiction," which is approximately what makes me cringe with a good percentage of advertising. 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @ginidietrich  @rdopping That is true, but the advantage of fiction vs. non-fiction, is that with my book about the Hawkeyes, it would have been a better ending if they beat UNLV in the last game, but sadly, I had to stick to the actual score. Facts can be so limiting.

Latest blog post: Indecision

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@ginidietrich @bdorman264 that's funny! Oh I think she's beautiful.

M_Koehler
M_Koehler

@ginidietrich @RebeccaTodd 4:30AM is the norm here. But I'm doing stupid stuff like running at that time

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @Katjaib  @HowieG On Jan 1, I had only 7,000 words, and was ready to quit. I told Roy Marble Sr., that I would try to write 3,000 that day and if it sucked, I was done. We had a hard launch date of Feb 4, 2012 at the Penn State vs. Iowa game. I had, the previous two months, written zero. Well, I'd written a bunch, but it was all rubbish. I couldn't get a handle on how to tell their story.

 

In the end, I was pleased with how it turned out, and the terror of missing the deadline helped me understand what I could do when scared to death.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @ClayMorgan Of course, an editor can also try to put their finger prints on the work and thus change the voice. In the 50th anniversary of Farenheit 451, they include an interview with Bradbury. In it, he talks about getting a letter from students at a school who read his classic. They didn't have a lot of money at the school and the students were asked to check out copies from the library or buy their own.

 

Some students had old copies other newer ones and they found that over the 43 printings, the editing had been severe. Mr. Bradbury had no idea and had assumed that after the second or third printing it had remained the same. The reason for the 50th edition was to put back all the stuff the editors had changed to make it more politically correct. Yes, the most famous work on censorship had been greatly censored over the years, much to Mr. Bradbury's chagrin.

 

In fairness, he did edit his first version, which was published in a magazine, because it was only 12,000 words, so in that regard you are correct, he did do second version.

Latest blog post: Indecision

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @rdopping Ha! I have that open, but haven't read it yet. My blog reading time is early in the morning so you'll see a comment from me tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll keep screwing up your "time spent on site" stats.