Lessons I Learned From Writing a Novel in 30 Days

I did it! I finished my novel in 30 days. I set out to write a complete novel by my 35th birthday, June 19th, 2012. And I completed. I slew the dragon. Now I get to share what I’ve learned with you.

It was a very eye-opening, arduous, and fun adventure. I learned so much about writing. I learned there is still so much I need to learn. I’m excited and looking forward to learning more about writing and storytelling for the rest of my life.

But I also learned that there are moments when I can be truly inspired, even on a first draft. By just writing, and doing it consistently, I dig down into the murky waters of my subconscious and bring things up I didn’t even know were there. I get to know myself much better. Sometimes, what I bring up is just filthy crap, refuse from the river bottom. But sometimes, I bring up diamonds. They are still in the rough, yes, and need to be cut and polished, but they are diamonds nonetheless. And I never would have unconvered them if I hadn’t slain the beast of Resistance—my fear of failure, my laziness, my fear if success. This is how masterpieces eventually come about—day after day of slogging through often mediocre work, wooing our Muse, until one day, she finally accepts our efforts and rewards us with a pearl of great price. It might takes years or even decades until we create our masterpiece, but what does that matter? Dig in and enjoy the journey! The important thing is that we are doing what we love, right?

“Everyone wants to be a writer, but few can really claim such a title. But you can, because, in the end, it’s not publication or recognition that makes someone a writer; it is writing a finished manuscript. If you’ve stuck with Book In A Month, and if you have that manuscript, regardless of what’s still ahead—polishing, revising, rewriting—then there’s one thing you can say now with confidence: You are a writer.”

-Victoria Schmidt, Book In A Month

Awesome. So now Queen Victoria has knighted me as an official writer. F$%*, yeah.

Important Lessons Learned:

#1. I’m not as hot sh&% as I thought I was.

Actually hunkering down and acting out your passions instead of just dreaming about them can be a very humbling, educational experience. There were a lot of parts in my novel (the exact percentage I’m too ashamed to give out!) that I thought “Wow, I can write a lot better than this…..”

I learned that not everything I touch turns to gold. I am quite capable of writing some pretty mediocre stuff. Frowny face, exclamation point!

The fact of the matter is, yes, I can write a lot better than that. That’s what rewriting is for. I had to keep reminding myself that this was just a first draft so I wouldn’t get depressed about some minor flaw or inconsistency in the plot or a chapter that sucked and give up entirely. I was definitely tempted to do that a few times. Steven Pressfield calls this “hitting the wall.” He says it usually happens about halfway through our creative endeavor. Or, if you’re me, it happened about a third of the way through, then halfway through, then two-thirds of the way through, etc etc.

Sh*%-y first drafts are a fact of life. I’m not sure what the average number of drafts is for published novels, but I know it’s commonplace to rewrite a book 8 or 10 times before getting it published. I remember reading somewhere that Chris Guillebeau, author of the Art of Nonconformity blog said that his first book took about 12 or 13 drafts. “All writing is rewriting,” as the saying goes.

BUT…

…and this is a very big “but”…

….if you don’t hunker down and write the first draft, nothing will ever happen. The book is not going to write itself. As Steven Pressfield says in his book Do The Work, you can always tweak it later. Just get words onto the page. Writing the first draft is essential.

If you are too scared to see how sh*#-y a first draft you can write, you can never be a writer. Prepare yourself for some crappy writing and just learn to accept it as one step in the process—the first draft to creating your masterpiece.

2. Conversely, I surprised myself several times and found some diamonds in the rough

By forcing myself to just write every day, I drilled down into my subconscious and came back with some diamonds. In other words, I wrote entire sections in my novel and created new characters that I hadn’t even thought about in the planning stage. And many of them ended up being major characters that play a vital role in the sequence of events. I only found these gems by just letting it flow—staying open to inspiration, to spontaneity.

On the other hand, I am now more painfully aware than ever how excruciating it can be to not know where you are going with your story. I now have that much more motivation to become a better story outliner.

3. If you want to accomplish anything in life, you will have to BATTLE EVERY DAY. Just get used to it.

Anyone who has done anything meritorious or noteworthy has gone through countless days of just plain duking it out, and they usually have a lot of battle scars to prove it. One of my personal heroes, Steven Pressfield, started being a writer in his 20s, and didn’t have his first major success until his 40s. Pressfield, you are the man.

People like Steven Pressfield don’t do this because of the money or the fame or anything else. We do this work because we love it. (I say “we” because I’d like to include you and me in this category. If you weren’t the type of person who longs to do things out of passion, you wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place.)  Orson Scott Card once pointed out that there are a lot simpler ways to make money than being a writer. Amen to that.

Yes, I could put on a suit and tie, go to an office building everyday, grab my ankles, conform, and acknowledge money and security as my main goal, what I put in 8 hours a day for, and go home and be a vegetable in front of the boob tube. I know a lot of people who would love to be my friend and accept me into their circle if I did that. And I know a lot of women who would love to be my soul mate if I did that. Well f$&% those people and their circle of friends, and f$*% those women who need husbands like that. (Including my ex-wife.) Been there, done that. Not for me.

I don’t care if I have to go through the rest of my life friendless and penniless, like Job in the Old Testament. I have made my choice.

I choose the road less travelled. I choose to follow my bliss. I choose to fulfill my life calling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I have to pick up my sword or how many times I get burned, I am going to slay this beast. I am going to do what I came to this planet to do.

One last thing I learned from writing a novel in 30 days. I learned that I must write fiction, I HAVE TO write fiction. How do I know this? Because when writing fiction, that is when I am met with the most resistance. Every day of this month long exercise, it took me hours just to get up the courage to write. I would put it off, go do some other work, do something else, and then come back to it. Go find something else again and then come back to it again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I’d often plan on writing in the morning and just get around to it at 11:00 at night. Wow!

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator … The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Admittedly, all of this avoiding doing my work is silly because, in the end, it’s just a first draft. What was I so scared of? I can always go back and tweak it later, as Pressfield pointed out. But, what it proves to me is that there is some invisible force bent on stopping me from doing my work. Pressfield calls this Resistance. Whatever that force is, it is proof that this is an integral part of my life calling.

I will not back down.

I will not quit.

Resistance, bring it on.

What projects are you working on, or want to work on, but haven’t started yet? Have you ever tried, or thought about trying, to write a book in a month? Share your comments below!

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9 comments

  1. todayiwatchedamovie · · Reply

    I’m trying to be patient and wait for November…I need the added support of NaNoWriMo for my first attempt, I think. I do have a few ideas rattling around in my brain though.

    I’m glad you got it done!

    1. Dude!! If you wrote a novel every month, you could have 5 done by November!

      Seriously, though, I thought about starting a second novel immediately today, but I decided I need to focus on my movie that I’m making this summer. I need to rewrite the screenplay and go film it! I plan to get this novel published and feature film in festivals this year, so I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me!

      One thing I recommend checking out, however, is Larry Brook’s book Story Engineering. Having now officially “pantsed” a novel (well, I did a little bit of outlining, but not much), I see the value in doing some serious outlining before you write. So if you start now, you could have a really good outline of your novel before NaNoWriMo and actually have a good idea where your story is heading while you write it. I was often like “Where the hell am I going with this?” I always made it through, but sometimes not having a solid plan can be very nerve-wracking. I think having a plan takes some of the stress off you while you’re actually doing the writing.

      I just watched this interview with Larry Jordan about the book and he gives a lot of good (and free!) information:

      http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/03/27/story-engineering-larry-brooks/

      Thanks and good luck!

      1. todayiwatchedamovie · ·

        Thanks! You’re always so helpful!

      2. I aim to please. 🙂

  2. You’re post couldn’t hit the nail on the head more gently. My love for writing is not new by any means but taking the time to actually do so has been the hardest part. The part that hit home in your post was when you stated that it was when you talked about this invisible force that was holding you back. How did you fight the resistance? I find myself in the fight and if you have some cheat codes or some inspiring words you can send my way, I’d appreciate it.

    Also congratulations on finishing the book.

  3. Thanks for your kind words. I actually wrestled with the exact same thing for 20 years! I wanted to be a novelist as a child, and actually started writing a novel as a teen, but never finished. 20 years later I finally picked up the torch again!

    Two things changed: I had a huge FAIL in my life and it served as a wake-up call to actually start living life they way I want to, including following my passions. I wrote all about this experience in my book Smashing Limits which I plan on publishing soon.

    The other thing was that I read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. I know of no other book more inspiring to artists and writers to actually roll up their sleeves and do the work.

    As far as tricks and cheat codes, one thing that has helped is Jerry Sienfeld’s “X-Method.” I wrote about how it has helped me to write every day here:

    http://blog.danielbeanfilms.com/2012/04/16/seinfelds-x-method-really-works/

    Hope that helps! Best of luck on your journey and thanks for sharing your insights!

  4. […] A film about the first Havaianas store in AmericaShout-Out: Writer Ryan Trimble, Discovering RebelLessons I Learned From Writing a Novel in 30 DaysChristopher Nolan's films – How do they compare?Professional Author: Income 35 […]

  5. […] There were a few years when I didn’t really do any exercise. If I did, it was very sporadic. Funny thing—during this time, I took basically that same approach to my art and following my passions. Then one day, I purposefully changed from a sedentary lifestyle to one of daily exercise. And not coincidentally, since that time, I’ve written 2 books and 3 screenplays. I directly relate all of my creative work to my daily decision to exercise. I even get my best ideas while I am exercising, especially when I’m running. For me running is both a form of peaceful meditation and relaxation and a way to feel just enough pain and discomfort to be able to feel alive. The meditation part helps me get in touch with my Muse. The discomfort part helps me get out of my comfort zone and actually do the work of creating. (Like when I wrote a novel in 30 days.) […]

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