In a comment on my "Thousand Words Before Email" posting, Bob mentioned he participated in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it's affectionately but rather awkwardly referred to by participants, is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That's about 175 pages.
Ouch! Yes, it's a lot of work, but with dedication it can be done. There are 30 days in November, so it comes out to only 1,667 words a day. That's not to hard to do, most weary midlisters like myself do that, but doing that every day is a bit brutal. You better have your novel outlined before November 1 or you'll be in trouble!
Of course, the first draft you get from this typing marathon will be pretty shoddy, but that's not a bad thing. Like many writers, I find the first draft far more difficult to produce than later edits, so a time crunch can really help. I've never tried NaNoWriMo, but I did participate in the 3-Day Novel Contest a few years ago. That's a contest where you have to write a novel over Labor Day Weekend. First prize is publication, and an automatic prize is knowing you can do it.
Did I win? No, but I finished. I wrote a 25,758 word mystery set in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Yes, that's technically a novella, but I wrote that sucker in three days so I get to call it a novel if I want to. Looking back on it now I can see why I didn't win. While it succeeded as a story, it failed as a mystery. If you caught one clue early on you automatically knew who the murderer was, and if you didn't, you were out of luck. But hey, I didn't know I had to be good, I thought I just had to be coherent!
I certainly wasn't coherent at the end of it. Almudena, who was pregnant at the time, showed herself to be a true writer's wife and moved in with her mother for the entire time so I could go crazy all by myself.
A few things helped me through. First, I got a leg up on the deadline by starting at the stroke of midnight. I had a detailed outline in my head (which is within the rules, you just can't have anything written down) and I wrote furiously for a couple of hours, pounding out the first chapter and starting the second. Then I went to bed. When I woke up, I started again. I did nothing but write until the deadline 72 hours later. I did sleep about six hours a night, because serious sleep deprivation kills my productivity, but I did nothing else. Oh, I drank a bit. OK, more than a bit.
Even though the mystery aspect of the story failed, I must say the novel held up pretty well considering the circumstances. I allowed myself three hours before deadline to edit, and managed to smooth over some of the more ragged prose. I also caught my main character's name changing about halfway through the book! Yeah, these things happen when you're rushed. It explains a lot about journalism, but that's another story.
If you haven't tried one of these contests, I highly recommend them. It proves to yourself that you can hit that word count, that you can actually finish a novel in a short amount of time. Deadlines don't seem so scary afterward. I haven't done it again, because I got what I wanted out of it the first time, but it was a weekend well spent.
And that novel? I haven't revised it yet. I got distracted writing a couple of other novels that I'm now shopping around. One day I'll dust off that mystery and rework it. It's a draft just waiting to be revised, and it's always good to have a couple of those in your files for the times when you're not sure what to write next.