Sunday, November 4, 2012

How to Start a Novel

One Sunday evening, at exactly eight - sixteen pm, Amy June Pilgrim made a decision. It was a decision she’d made at least twenty-three times before, but this time, she swore to herself, it would stick.

She knew it had been at least twenty-three times, because she’d made this same decision every Sunday evening since she turned eleven, and that was twenty-three weeks ago.

Like many of you, I hope, I have plunged into the joys, terrors, thrills, and seat-of-pants writing that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, thousands of people around the world pledge to write at least fifty thousand words in thirty days. This is my third year participating, and the rush of the first week is well underway, fuelled by caffeine and leftover Halloween candy (it’s no accident NaNo starts the day after trick or treating ends, I’m sure).

I got an early start, for me – my first NaNo words were written just after midnight, as November 1 got underway. There they are, at the top of this post – good, bad, or indifferent, they'll stay that way at least until the beginning of December. Because there is no time to go back and edit – and that’s the lesson of NaNoWriMo, and the reason I adore it.

Don’t get me wrong – good editing is essential to good writing. But good writing starts with just plain writing. No writing, nothing to edit. And if you’re like me, your “inner editor” can be so freakin’ critical, it can stop you from writing before you start. “You’ll never write like Lorrie Moore,” it will say. “To Kill a Mockingbird has been done, what do you have to match Harper Lee?” it will add. “Why bother to write at all if you are so bad at it?”

Then NaNo comes along and says: “Just shut up and write.” And for some reason, I do. I could try the same thing any time of year, and maybe one day I will. But I really love being part of this huge group of people, all writing madly, and badly (or well or somewhere in between) for thirty days in the dark of late fall.

So, would you read more about Amy June Pilgrim? As I write this post, in NaNo world Amy June is sitting at the bottom of her basement steps, ankle twisted, wondering where on earth her Grandpa could be, and why he seems to have missed their weekly Sunday evening hide and seek date, the one she decided to cancel for the twenty-third time… but never got the chance to tell him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of excited to find out what’s going to happen to her next!

Follow Liz Fountain at her author blog, Point No Point, or her Facebook page. Her first novel will be published in April, 2013, by Champagne Books.


Big Mike said...

One fact I discuss in a workshop is that your hook must be on the first page to grab the reader and chain them to the storyline. I think your bard was sharp enough with your first line to catch me (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Liz - this is only my second year trying NaNo and I definitely need the discipline! Your beginning hooked me.

January Bain said...

Sounds really good, Liz! Good luck and have a happy Sunday! Best, January

Liz Fountain said...

Thanks all! I am up to 9000 words and having a lot of fun with no idea how to get this story where it needs to go... I've already been surprised by the appearance of a character I didn't plan for, who seems about to play a pivotal role. Good luck, Rosemary - one word at a time!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I share your enthusiam but not the method.

There are some real winning first lines of famous novels. My favorite is still from Rebecca: "The last camel died at noon." The whole setting is right there in those few words.

Liz Fountain said...

Julie, any first line that includes "camel" has my attention - love it, thanks!