For anyone hoping they’ll get their book finished by this time next year, the concept of writing an entire Novel-in-a-Day is enough to prompt a swift lie-down in a darkened room. But on October 25th this year, that’s exactly what a bunch of L&L staff and forum members did - one novel, one day. Finished. Complete.
Of course, it’s not as insane as I’ve made it sound. Or quite as heroic - though it is still one heck of an achievement. Created back in 2011 by L&L forum regular Pigfender - known better in the outside world as Rog, Novel-in-a-Day (NiaD) is a yearly challenge to writers to do exactly what it says in the title. Each participant takes charge of a chapter of a book, writes like a demon, then submits the results to Rog who puts the whole lot together (using Scrivener, of course!) to create possibly the world’s fastest-ever completed novel.
This furious writing extravaganza is open to everyone, whether you’ve been published before or not, and takes place every October - though if you’re new to NiaD and haven’t posted on the L&L forums much before, you’ll need to send in something such as a blog post to prove you’re serious and can write to the required standard.
All the ideas behind the chapters and novels are Rog’s own, which is rather awe-inspiring for someone like me who has been trying to come up with a half decent idea for years now, and without much success. But that’s the beauty of NiaD - being handed the freedom to write without the usual panic over whether the foundations you’re basing your book on are in fact made of jelly.
The basic process goes like this: just after midnight on NiaD day (that’s CST - Cornwall Standard Time, otherwise known as UK time), all participants are emailed a brief description of where their character should start - for example, this year, mine consisted of two East End thugs sitting at the wheel of their van - a brief description of what needs to be covered, and where the chapter should end - again, in my case this was back in the van, but with two intelligence officers tied up in the rear. This gave plenty of scope for anything to happen in between, as long as at some point it involved a kidnapping. You’re also sent a character sheet or sheets, possibly some location details, and there also may or may not be some information about what has happened beforehand, depending on the need for continuity and/ or Rog’s whims.
This is another great part of the process - the mystery. Until the final book is published, nobody knows what happens in the story outside their chapter, or where this fits into the narrative. I didn’t have any information about what had gone before, which convinced me I was writing the opening chapter. Actually, it turned out to be chapter 15. As long as you follow the brief, it doesn’t matter what you write - for the first time, this year there were enough participants to run two novels simultaneously, so I could compare my chapter to my counterpart Chanel Blake’s contribution to see where we’d taken things. Two identical briefs equalled two completely different chapters for two totally different novels.
You don’t have to be too much of a master of speed - each chapter needs to be a minimum of around 1,500 words long, and it’s the quality that counts rather than the quantity. This year, mine turned in at 2400 words, though past submissions have stretched to 5,000 words. How that author found the time to write all that in a day I’ll never know. Everything has to be in at 8pm to give Rog a chance to provide any continuity feedback and start compiling the books - but if you’re really pressed, then the absolute deadline is a minute to midnight (it’s a Novel-in-a-Day, remember).
All the sections are designed to be fun to write - so you won’t get stuck with a compulsory detailed description of the inside of a recycling plant (though if that’s your thing and it could conceivably fit the brief then feel free…). You can also amuse yourself, procrastinate hugely, or fish for ideas by hanging out on L&L’s NiaD forum with the rest of the usual reprobates.
In all, it’s a bit stressful but great fun. Personally, by taking the huge obstacle of actually finding a decent plot away, it actually gave me the chance to just sit down and write. I didn’t know where the story had been, but I knew where it was going, and who was taking it there - if you really are an adrenaline addict, it’s a great warm-up for NaNoWriMo, too.
If you are curious but aren’t sure if you have the nerve, Rog has put together a great Q&A, designed to counter all your arguments against taking part (or something along those lines):
There’s also a growing library of the previous years’ attempts available for browsing: http://literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=28582
And there might even be a t-shirt:
The forum post inviting writers to sign up usually goes live in August, and as we love the event and want everyone else to join in too, we’ll be making much more of a song and dance about it next year on our site, Facebook, Twitter and so forth, and expanding the number of books being written so that all those interested in joining in can find a place on a team. It’s also possible that we could run more than one story at the same time, provided there were enough people in the background to support this - though that would mean they’d have to step out of writing that year. Rog’s aim is to be able to accommodate entire writing groups or schools within a single novel, and to be able to produce non-English language versions of the books at some point. In short, the event has a lot of potential, and we’re all working hard to see where we can get it for 2015.
Anyway, if this has convinced you that you’d like to write a chapter next year, keep an eye out for more news around that time - and roll on next October. Here’s hoping to see some of you there…