Day 29 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 23.1: A Novelist Sighs, Celebrates, Apologizes, and Returns to Work

Working from home had seemed like a good idea to the novelist, but it turned out to have its own difficulties.

Absent were the near-constant knocks at his door and the repeated rings of his telephone.

Present was the refrigerator, the bed for “just a short nap,” and the ability to stare into space doing nothing for long stretches, with no one to ask him what he was doing.

But because he was still getting over a cold, he had decided to write from his couch. And it was there that he completed the last words that put him over the top – sort of.

Let me explain.

The novelist was engaged in two parallel challenges that month. Their goals coincided, but in important ways, they veered apart.

His first challenge was to write 50,000 words in a single thirty-day period. No starting early. No throwing in things that he had written in the past. Just 50,000 words of extended narrative fiction.

The competition was part of a national effort, spelled out in a Web site:  Take a look – it’s fascinating.

The site explained how the hare-brained idea had been launched back in 1999, when there were 21 participants (and six winners). In 2008, the number of participants had jumped to 119,301, and there had been 21,683 winners.

In 2009, he was in it to win it. And, with a certain amount of joy, he realized that he had done exactly that just last night.

For the record, he noted that his 50,000th word was “Tom,” and it appeared in Chapter 23. For the most Type A of readers, here is the exchange that put him over the top:

“I’m not sure where you’re getting your advice, Alan –“

“From Harvey Shinblock,” Alan responded without hesitation. “I’m not hiding the ball from you. Before Harvey was disbarred for playing law too hard, he knew all there was to know about conflicts. Tell me he’s wrong.”

“Well, not wrong exactly –“ Tom spun out as long as he could.

Word 50,000 was that last “Tom” in the sentence above.

Careful readers will already have determined what the novelist’s second challenge was – and indeed it was at least slightly at odds with the first challenge. For the rest of you, let me put it this way:

The novelist had just engaged in 30 days of writing In every free moment, and in quite a few non-free moments when he should have been doing something else. But he had completed his task. And now, he wanted to do nothing more than kick back, stow the laptop, and celebrate, or sleep, or something.

But he couldn’t.

If you still can’t figure out why, go back up to that “winning” sentence. Have you read it? Does it sound like a resounding ending to a novel?

Hmmm, no, it doesn’t.

The novelist imagined that every participant in nanowrimo began by thinking and hoping that the end of the word-count challenge and the last words of his novel would coincide, that they would be two parallel roads that meet up for a victory lap in the last mile, or at least the last chapter.

But it doesn’t work that way. Some stories may take just 50,000 words, but many others take more.

The novelist knew that many other novelist-participants simply close their laptops and claim they are done.

This novelist was different. He was unable to declare that his novelus interruptus was done simply because he was done in. He liked to think that was because he was a better person than all those other participants. But he suspected it was because he had decided early on to post his chapters to the world as he worked. Everything he had written was online, at And the readers may be tired, or busy, or distracted. But they were not idiots. They would be able to spot a novel that stopped in the middle of a dark, deserted highway, and discern the disappearing form of the novelist as he abandoned his vehicle and walked off the road, through the crunch of the gravel, toward the distant lights of a beckoning watering hole.

The novelist licked his lips, and hunkered down. He had work to do.

By his reckoning, he had four, maybe five, chapters he needed to write to send this thing off right. Questions had to be answered, connections had to be made. OK, maybe six chapters. He could do that – he had done worse.

But his biggest fear was disappointing his readers. They had stuck with him through the hard times – remember Chapter 4, and, oh yeah, Chapter 14? A pecan yum yum? What the hell was he thinking? But what if those same readers had plunged into this endeavor on one condition: That the author would deliver, signed and completed, a novel from beginning to end in 30 days? Not 50,000 words – A NOVEL.

Maybe those same readers had lives that kept them busy, but they had decided to make some small space, in their time and in their hearts, for this ridiculous endeavor – so long as it was done in 30 days.

Was the novelist breaking a trust? He had no way of knowing. But all he could do was this:


“I am sincerely sorry for the piss-poor planning that led me to need four to six more chapters to complete my story, and to fail to deliver a complete novel in 30 days.”


“Please stay with me. I’m still not entirely sure how this all turns out, but I have a really good, OK, a pretty good feeling it will all be worth it.”


And so, he did.