It's almost November--also known as National Novel Writing Month or, more awkwardly, as NaNoWriMo. Writers from all over the globe are challenging themselves to produce 50,000 manuscript pages by the end of the month, which roughly translates into about 175 book pages. That's a slim novel, just a hair past novella territory, but novel length nonetheless. I'm reading Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and it comes in at 178 pages. The cover says it's a novel. I'm not about to argue with Neil Gaiman.
Do I think you can write a novel in a month? No. Not really.
There are always notable exceptions, of course, but they're rare. A great novel is more than just a word count--it's well-developed characters, an absorbing story, precise language. In my experience, plots and characters never behave as you want them to and despite your best intentions, the story will take on a life of its own. This is a good thing. This also means there will be a lot of decision-making and problem-solving along the way that can take a lot of time to sort out. If you want to create depth to your storytelling, you need time. Pacing, rhythm, good dialogue--all take time. Quality can't be rushed.
If nothing else, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to kick-start your novel idea or to develop the discipline of writing every day, toward a goal. A deadline can help you ignore your inner censor and keep pushing through--a problem for anyone working on a first draft. I plan on participating by keeping up with a daily 2,000-word count, even though I'm in the middle of a novel I've been working on for several years. Will it be finished by the end of November? Absolutely not.
Need some inspiration? Here are some of my favorite writing books:
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt