“There is a well-known saying that if you give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time then it will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare.
In 2003, the staff at Paignton Zoo gave a computer to six crested macaques and categorically proved that what you actually get is five pages of the letter ‘S’ and a broken keyboard. Time, it seems, is no substitute for talent. But can talent substitute for time…?”
(From the introduction to 2011’s NiaD, The Dark)
Novel in a Day is an annual event where a group of writers from across the planet get together and write a novel. A whole novel, in a single day.
The event differs from other writing events in several ways. The first is that our aim is produce something that has a single coherent plot that is actually enjoyable as a work of fiction! You’ll be helping write a book with a recognisable start, middle and end without any of the ego, random plot twists and exponentially growing character lists that you might expect from a collaborative exercise. This is possible because the basic plot structure is worked out in advance of the event, and then broken down into bite sized chunks for the authors to work on. If you read the books produced in previous years, I think you’ll agree we’ve got a pretty good track record.
Participants receive their briefing packs electronically at midnight on the morning of the event. They have until 8pm the same day to write and email in their chapter so that they can be collated and turned into a book. The full novel is made available in epub mobi and pdf formats, as well as a Scrivener project file by midnight the next morning.
The second difference also has an impact on the readability of the final piece: Quality, not volume, is our goal. Each participant has a ‘target’ of a very manageable 1,500 words (submissions received vary from there to around 4,500). What’s more important than the quantity of words written is that you produce something you’re proud of. Proud to show your friends, and proud to share with the world. 1,500 well written and edited words that invoke genuine emotion are far better than 10,000 ones that readers skim over.
The third difference lies in the challenge faced by the participants. In exchange for removing a lot of the normal and familiar issues, participants get a whole new set of new and unnecessary pressures. An unfamiliar genre. Unusual time pressures. No control of the wider plot. Oh, and here’s an important one… No knowledge of what happens in the story outside of your own chapter. You only get the information you need to write your section: Character sheets, location sheets (if required) and a brief outline of the plot points you need to cover. One of the things I like the most about NiaD is the opportunity to benchmark yourself as a writer and get a better sense of your own strengths, voice and style. There are so few opportunities to look at your work lined up against others produced in the same time constraints, with the same level of preparation and on the same story. The way the story baton is passed from author to author across the chapters clearly highlights what makes your writing voice distinctly you… and it only takes a day!
You don’t need to be a professional writer to take part (although several are — it’s THAT fun), but you do need to be committed and confident. Committed, because there are no back up writers, and no time to make good on missing sections. If you don’t deliver, you leave a hole. Confident, because there will be only very limited editing done. Topping and tailing if you overstretch your brief and some really basic formatting / spell checking. You need to be comfortable you are able to produce work in a time-pressured environment that you are happy with people reading.
The event takes place each year on a Saturday some time in October (the most recent event took place on 17th October, 2015). You can learn more about the event by reading the FAQs here, or by visiting the NiaD forum here and asking a question!
The Novel in a Day event is generously sponsored by the lovely people at Literature and Latte who make the Scrivener and Scapple software for writers, which is kind of neat because I use both products extensively in the planning and running of the event, not to mention that all the finished ebooks and pdfs are produced using Scrivener.