a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Sometimes I write novels

At midnight tonight, I’m doing something big: I’m starting a new novel. But, even bigger, I’m writing this novel for the first ever Camp NaNoWriMo, which means that I’m writing it in one month.

I’ve written novels in different ways. I’ve written novels like a long, leisurely ramble through the woods; I’ve written novels like an all-out pedal-to-the-metal sprint; I’ve written novels like a marathon over hills and valleys. I’ve finished a handful, and there are many more partials languishing in old notebooks and dusty corners of my hard drive. Plenty of them never made it past the initial brainstorm.

My first novel was a high fantasy environmental social commentary, written over a five year period during high school and college, 480 pages of faded pencil in spiral bound notebooks. This novel was my closest companion, my passion, and when it was over I didn’t know what to do with myself. I put it aside and didn’t write another novel for a couple of years.

I started roleplaying online and learned the value of collaboration, of improvisation, of knowing a character so well that he can be put into any time or place and be recognized by the first sentence.

It was National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, that got me noveling again. The challenge is simple: 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. I saw it and thought, “Bah! I can do that.” So I did it, and I reached 50k halfway through the month and decided to aim for 100,000. I’ve done it for three years now, and I used my most common roleplaying character, Seamus, for every one of them. In 2008 he was an immigrant to the American old west, where he faced his fear of vampire pumpkins and was conscripted into a war between cowboys and shepherds. In 2009 he was an accidental triple agent in a tangled political thriller. In 2010 he met an imperfect god in a philosophical story about Berkeley’s idealism.

In 2009 I also discovered 3DN, the 3-Day Novel Contest, which is the sprint to NaNo’s marathon. Over Labor Day weekend you write a novel. Three days, approximately 30,000 words. It makes NaNo feel slow. But it takes different skills; in 3DN you dedicate your whole self to writing for three days and let everything else go, but in NaNo that luxury is not possible, so you have to fit writing in around the rest of your life, and you have to somehow keep the momentum going for a solid month.

With all of these challenges combined, I have finished five novels, but I haven’t revised a single one of them. They’re full of the usual rough draft messiness — plot holes, plot canyons, plots that break off and are never seen again, plots that appear out of nowhere, pages and pages of dialogue where nothing important gets said, pages and pages of the narrator musing, dream sequences and hallucinations and writing that is so bad I wonder what I was on when I wrote it. And, occasionally, something that bursts out of the roughage and gleams.

You could try to blame the speed-writing, but it wouldn’t work. The drafts are all in about the same state of ghastliness, whether it took me five years or three days to finish them. I write the challenge novels for fun, with no thought of polishing them up for the world; I write them for myself, because without them I might have stopped writing novels after my first one, and that would have been sad.

I haven’t figured out how to start revising, but I do know that the people behind NaNo are starting a summer novel writing month in fifteen minutes, and it’s going to be fun and exciting and historic. I wouldn’t miss it.

If you’d like to follow my Camp NaNo adventures, my name over there is Seabird, and I’m going to keep track of my word count right here on this site, in the sidebar underneath my picture. If you think supporting writing is important, donate a couple dollars to the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page.

If you’d like to join me, it’s not too late! You don’t have to start writing at midnight like me. I just like to throw myself into it, because why not?

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time.

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