What I Learned in November

I wrote a novel in November. It was an accident.

Friends have talked about National Novel Writing Month for years. This year, my plan was to not do it, again. I didn’t have time.  But I wanted to go through the preparations and see what 1667 words a day felt like, so I would know what to do to be ready for next year’s real attempt.

Things did not go as planned.

I had spent October with my writing group talking about how to get notes organized and plan an outline. I had a rough idea for a plot and a few characters in mind. On November 1st, I wrote 1800 words over the course of a couple of hours, spread through my working day. That didn’t seem so bad. The next day I wrote 1950 words because I spent an extra hour that night writing a couple of scenes. I thought I was doing pretty well, so even after I got behind on the third day, I decided that I would write a little more.

Before the end of the fifth day, I wanted to know what 50,000 words really felt like. I’d never written a novel. My longest story capped out around 7500 words, and most of the others were 2500 or less–most of it less. I made up my mind to keep writing, so that I could see just how big of a story fits into 50,000 words. I still believed I wouldn’t finish by November 30th, but I liked the idea of writing a novel just to see what writing a novel was like.

The exercise started making sense to me by the end of the week, right around 10,000 words, where I reached the end of my planned outline and I took my pants off (as they say) with some trepidation. Working without any idea of where the story was going was new for me. My characters started doing things seemingly of their own accord. They kept surprising me with new ideas and clever ploys. I kept reminding myself that the story didn’t matter. It was the volume of words I was really after.

When I got halfway through the book, it became apparent why I needed to write this much. Nothing, nothing, nothing I had ever planned when I had tossed around ideas for novels had ever had this kind of size. I had a dozen characters, several locations, timelines to monitor, and some kind of plot that slipped like a fish in my characters’ collective grip. And knowing that I had to write the amount that I had just written yet again made me realize how inadequately I had conceptualized a “novel size” plot.

As we stumbled our way through Thanksgiving week, I got giddy. I started to do something I never thought I would do. I started telling people I was writing a novel. By the time I got to 45,000 words, I was certain that I was going to be successful. On November 30th, I brought my story to its final conclusion (the ending even surprised me). I did it. I couldn’t believe it. I wrote a novel.

I wrote a novel!

Review copy

After the initial readthrough, I noticed that my writing style had changed. I had let typos and substitutions slip past me, I had let plot points just change mid-scene, and I had completely forgotten about poor Sandy, the dog who made one appearance and then never returned. The story is crazy and wandering, but it is a success, because I wrote it and I put it out there. Now I just need to repair it.

The story was much bigger than I thought it would be, and writing it was much more intense than I thought it would be. But the hardest thing I learned was that writing those 50,000 words was the easy part. I liked the story that I wrote, so I decided to give it some love. As December creeps onward, I am realizing what an onerous task editing a novel is, especially when I had no idea what was going to happen in the story until I wrote it. But I love these characters, and some day, maybe before next November, I want them to have a polished story all their own.

So in my post-November, pre-holiday zone, I’ve started outlining the plot that emerged last month. I’m making notes about scenes to add and scenes that need mending to make the story coherent. I’m arguing with myself over which scenes really ought to be cut and which characters need to be tossed or maybe re-imagined. I’m only halfway through it, but I’m excited at the idea of making this story into something good, something that I actually want to read and share.

It was a thrill ride, and on the last day of November, I was already planning a second novel. And a third. Yeah, I’d do it again.


Kit Fox lives in New England and spends her days panicking about whatever is not being done while she’s doing something else. We assure you, it’s all really quite funny once you get to know her.

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