NaNoWriMo: Milling the Uncarved Block

So, you’re still not sure about this NaNoWriMo thing

Or maybe you don’t even know what it is. Some kind of greeting the writers of Mork & Mindy tried out?

Yeah, um, no. It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’m doing it. Again. Yes, writing a novel in a month. (well, okay, I’ll be honest, finishing the final 50K of a first draft). But still, it’s not impossible. It’s not even particularly daunting.

If you know what you’re up against.

Here’s a hint. Look in the mirror and put on your best game face. That person. That’s your opponent, if you need to think of this challenge in terms of winner/loser. Alternately, and my preference, is to see the person in the mirror as your team captain, water boy, head coach, cheer squad, defensive line, power forward, and all around best fan in the world.

How do you do it though? A whole novel?

Yeah, a whole novel. Well, 50K words of a novel anyway. That’s the goal. Some novels (mysteries, some subgenres of romance) can fall into the 40K-60K word count range and be complete. The stuff I write and like to read (and edit) usually hits at around 75K plus. YMMV.

For newcomers to the challenge, or those struggling to finally hit that 50K mark on 30 November, consider NaNoWriMo from the perspective of the wood carver.

I first encountered the concept of the Uncarved Block

in Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh.

TaoofPoohFor a wood carver, the uncarved block represents potential. It’s the beginning of what will be both a journey (the carving) and destination (the finished piece).

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing a book in 30 days. It’s about finding an idea, just like a carver will find a tree.

NaNoWriMo is the act of felling the tree and finding the particular section of it that you want to focus on as you begin to carve. That section is your first draft.

NaNoWriMo is taking that section of trunk, shaving off the rough bark to reveal the core beneath, and examining it for the most attractive grain patterns. That core is the story that you’ve begun on this crazy month-long journey.

Those 50K words won’t be a novel when you’re done. They’re likely to be no more than 30K or so usable words mixed in with another 20K or so that need to be pared away, shaved off, and carved out, before you can see the beginnings of your finished piece.

So save yourself the headache and heartache. Don’t think of this

as a challenge to “write a novel”. Think of it as finding your uncarved block and getting it into your workshop where you can begin the exciting task of examining it for the best grain patterns. And then, after December has grown on you a bit, slowly, slowly, start to carve.

Let your fingers clean out a few hollows. Take all those laundry list descriptions of your characters’ appearances and make room for the reader to ask questions about what they look like. And to fill in some descriptive details themselves.

Let your fingers shave away the burdensome dialogue that felt oh so necessary when you wrote it. And be especially careful to slice away every adverb that you added to your dialogue tags. Make room for your readers to hear your characters’ voices and see their facial expressions instead.

It’s a fun journey. An exciting one. Come join us here in the trees as we select our trunks and prepare our uncarved blocks.

Happy NaNoWriMo Everyone!











About ajsikes

I am a freelance editor and author of speculative fiction in the dark/weird vein. My editing style is best described as nurturing. I treat each customer with the same respect and consideration regardless of the quality of their writing, and always aim my comments at helping writers improve and strengthen their work. For more information, please visit me at my website.
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2 Responses to NaNoWriMo: Milling the Uncarved Block

  1. jazzfeathers says:

    Hey Aaron, you described my journey to come to this stage of Ghost Trilogy, which indeed started with NaNoWriMo 2010.
    I’m polishing the first novel of the trilogy this November. Let’s see whether I can polish the entire 130k word baby šŸ˜‰

    It’s nearly here. Get ready!!!!

    • ajsikes says:

      Hey Sarah,
      Awesome! That’s pretty well how Gods of Chicago happened, too. I’m taking it much the same with Gods of New Orleans, but more consciously this time around. It helps to know that I’m just shaving away the outer layers to get to the heartwood rather than doing it all in one go and endlessly whittling and carving my manuscript into oblivion šŸ™‚

      Tomorrow is the day. Good luck!

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