An instant novel needs more time.
by Andy Scheer
Sometimes participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) makes sense.
Three years ago, as a senior in Taylor University’s Professional Writing program, Chandler Birch accepted the challenge to write a novel in a month. “Prior to that,” he says, “I had next to no experience developing a plot bigger than five thousand words.”
Birch completed the required 50,000 words, but the story lacked an ending and he shelved it. In February, he learned of a novel contest from Simon & Schuster. He had less than a month to submit an outline plus the first fifty pages.
But when he dug out his instant novel, he found most of it was “pretty terrible.” He salvaged what he could and reshaped it into “an entirely different project.”
That April, Birch learned he was a top-ten finalist. He had until September 1 to submit a complete novel of at least 60,000 words. In those same few months he graduated, got married, and moved across the country to take a fulltime editing job. Finishing the novel meant more writing binges, including a “desperate eighty-page sprint” to meet the deadline. With a few hours to spare, he submitted his full manuscript, now 160,000 words.
He won the contest, but publication depended on him cutting the project in half. Birch calls this the hardest part. “The manuscript … had five different plots, all of which needed more development to be halfway readable. The publisher recommended we … focus on only one or two.” That required a full rewrite, Birch says, “because everything was so interconnected.”
The revision took a year. But the work paid off. The FaceFaker’s Game would be published not just as an e-book, but also in paperback.
Birch says it contains “maybe sixty percent of its original plot, and even less of the NaNoWriMo project.”
But that’s where the story got its start. “NaNo helped me build up the muscles to tackle huge writing projects,” Birch says, “and it made me more comfortable churning out huge word counts consistently.”
Those were skills he needed during the three years it took to write, rewrite, and polish a one-month novel.