November: The Month I Finish My Novel

October brought a mess of opportunity leading into a November with promise.

What’s a mess of opportunity? A mess of opportunity is the appearance of uncomfortable or unfortunate circumstances that motivate a change for the better.

The architecture profession, the mainstay of our household income, is still receding in this recession that is supposed to be finished. In October my husband and I identified that we needed to diversify our source of income. I decided to look for a job.

This decision came with much angst. Since I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home mom for the past fifteen years, it means reentering the workforce. I have a good education and professional skills, but my experience in free-lance and non-paid appointed work may not qualify me in an employer’s mind.  And thus far, it hasn’t.

Realistically, I also knew I couldn’t teach an early morning religion class, raise a family, run a household, work a full-time job and write a novel at the same time. So, this decision meant that my novel would be placed on a shelf so I could focus on the immediate needs. Admittedly, I was sad to see that happen.

But then, a light bulb turned on.

November is National Novel Writing Month. Even though I wasn’t going to start my novel in November, could I use the idea of writing a novel at an increased pace as a way to finish it? I determined to not wait for potential employers to return calls, but to use this window of time during my job search to go to work on my book. For the first time during this most-extensive project, I allowed my organized get-it-done self to become part of my creative self. I mapped out this plan:

First, I evaluated where I was in the story. In the first week of October, I’d written about 50,000 words in two sections. The first was the story told chronologically to a certain point. The other section was the climax I’d written in a week-long writing vacation during the summer. A gap lay in between these two sections, and the end was missing.

Second, I identified which scenes I needed to complete. I roughly visualized 10 scenes between the chronological part and the climax that I’d already written. I guessed that each scene would be about 2,000 words. I made an even rougher estimate that I would have the same number of scenes, totaling about 2,000 words each, to write after the climax to reach the end.

Third, I set a goal to write a scene every weekday for a short period of time. If I kept that goal, I figured I would reach 70,000 words by the end of October and draw the two sections of the story together. I could take a break to edit, reevaluate, and plan the next ten scenes of the denouement. That would begin my second wave of writing that would bring 90,000 – 100,000 words by the second week of November.

Fourth, I went to work. Just like I would go to work at a full-time job, I worked on these scenes for this short two weeks of October. I reduced my reading—both online and off; I reduced my blog writing from three days per week to two; and I reduced distractions and focused on finishing.

In the middle of my focused writing time, an opportunity arose for me to write an essay about the personal experience that inspired my novel. I saw this as a chance to reconnect with that experience rather than as another messy circumstance to keep me from my goal. Writing it, sharing it, and publishing it worked its cumulative effect.

I met my October writing goal early and above target. I aimed for 70,000 and hit 72,877 words with two days to spare. Now that November is here, I’m counting on steps two, three and four to carry me to the end before Thanksgiving. And this is how I’ve come to the resolution of my story.

Messy circumstances uncover the best literature, right?


  1. David
    Nov 2, 2009

    Great post – best of luck on finishing your novel in your time frame and finding a job. Sadly, the town you live in has the highest unemployment rate of any city over 10,000 people in all of MN.

    I look forward to the publication of your book!

  2. Michelle at Scribbit
    Nov 2, 2009

    I loved reading this. Really I did. First, I felt your family situation, being in similar circumstances ourselves and having had that same conversation. In fact, I’ve been going through that “I need to get a job” thing myself and then wondering about my skills and the whole thing. Not to say I totally understand, each situation is unique, but I think I’ve got a bit of the same thing going on here.

    In fact that’s why I didn’t drop my blog, I figured it was foolish to give up the income it produced, small at it might be. So I ended up being offered a marketing job online which has helped but it’s made me figure out this tight schedule for my real writing. I write from 10-3 M-F unless I have something else that comes up more important, then spend Saturday writing my posts for the upcoming week, then Sunday for the journal. So far it’s working, I’ve got 55,000 words since the beginning of September and about 1/3 of the way through though once I’m done I’ll be going back through and editing it down to a manageable size. I’m sure my novice writing is full of extras that need to be cut out.

  3. Raya
    Nov 2, 2009

    nice strategy and organization!

    Instead of looking for a job (had one offered, but couldn’t take it due to home demands) I am focusing on cutting costs. I do lots of cooking from scratch (and other people’s leftovers)…. stopped buying everything we don’t really need and wear more sweaters because I lowered the thermostat.

    The nice thing is that I really don’t miss the things I have given up.

  4. emalee
    Nov 8, 2009


    That is so wonderful. I hope you accomplish your goal, and I will be excited to hear how it turns out.

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