I once tried to complete the thirty day novel challenge and failed. Nevertheless, through the experience of this failure I learned quite a bit. The thirty day novel challenge is a writing exercise where an author attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This requires the author to write an average of 1,667 words per day throughout this time period. In the abstract this sounds like a task that can be readily accomplished but like most long term projects requiring discipline and dedication there are forces that will work to undermine this process as it continues.
When I set out to write my 30 day novel I started out strong. For the first ten days my average word count per day remained above 1,667. After ten days the average word count dropped below that number but I figured I could make it up by writing more before the thirty days fully expired. However, as the days after Day 10 progressed I found it increasingly difficult to continue. There was a point where the story that it eventually became began to emerge from the crap that I had written. At that point I began to think about going back and editing what I had written to conform to the story as I saw it emerging. The conflict between this motivation and my motivation to continue with the word count per day all the way to day 30 became overwhelming. It was at this point that procrastination in comparison with this overwhelming feeling began to feel like a better option. Accordingly, the project petered out by day 20 or so. Eventually I did go back and rewrite the whole thing which is the finished product now available on Amazon.com. But this was well after the initial 30 days had expired without a 50,000 word finished product.
Even though I did not completely stick with the 30 day novel for the entire 30 days I did learn four important lessons that I think would be helpful for anyone attempting this challenge. These are lessons I would certainly employ if and when I take on this challenge a second time. I have not fully committed to trying the 30 day novel challenge a second time yet but it seems like something which has become more likely after writing this blog post.
- The over arching lesson is to keep writing every day. All the other lessons flow from this one. I know an easy criticism to make of me is that I did not follow this lesson when I wrote my 30 day novel. This is true and I cannot argue the point. However, I learned this lesson after I failed. As such, I am not technically being hypocritical from a chronological standpoint. You must stick with the writing despite the forces working against you attempting to complete this challenge. These forces will undoubtedly differ both in nature and power for different people depending on their personalities. But it is crucial to recognize these forces and their motivations. Treat them as the foreign entities and adversaries that they are and then ignore them. The ability to continue on in this manner is a muscle to develop by exercising it. The more you do it the easier it will become.
- The second lesson is to allow yourself to write crap. If you keep up with your writing the quality ideas will eventually materialize. But before the quality ideas begin to emerge you will probably write a mountain of crap. Recognize this fact and be forgiving of yourself. Allow to crap to flow so that the quality can also flow. Accept that this is the process. Therefore, keep writing and do not worry if what you write is good or bad. If you do give into the worry you will stop writing and not complete the challenge. You are training another muscle here which is the ability to come up with something out of nothing. This is a skill just like anything else it is just that the something will be buried in a pile of crap initially. The more you do it, however, the better able you will become to generate the quality ideas.
- The third lesson is to trust the process. As you progress, you may begin to doubt your ability to complete the challenge with a finished project that is worth reading. Your original inclination might be to think that if nothing of quality comes out initially then it must be impossible. This is an illusion. This doubt is another adversary that will attempt to derail you. Like the other adversaries, ignore it and keep writing.
- The fourth and final lesson is to save all the editing, rewriting and thoughts about crafting an intelligible story arc for Day 31. A successful attempt means that you have finished the 30 day challenge. If you are lucky then you might also have the germ of a story that has poked its head out of the pile of crap. If not then at the very least you have exercised the muscles necessary to become a serious writer.
Always remember there are two complementary dynamics at play when attempting the 30 day novel challenge. The first dynamic is to recognize and ignore the adversaries that will attempt to derail you from completing the project. The second dynamic is to recognize that you are working to develop the psychological muscles that will eventually make you a serious writer. In this respect the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the challenge of writing itself. Taken one step further, the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the accomplishment anything worth accomplishing. Perhaps seeing the 30 day novel challenge in this light will serve as further motivation to complete the challenge. Moreover, perhaps completing the challenge will serve as a means of better appreciating this important fact.