National Novel Writing Month

Winner 2008NaNoWriMo is upon us again, and I’m getting ready to embark for the third time on an insane mission: to write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel, from scratch, between November 1st and the 30th.

In case you don’t know, this is an unofficial, international, and highly successful event started by Chris Baty and some friends about ten years ago, now including over a hundred thousand participants all over the world.

The philosophy is two-fold. One part caters to the many people who’ve always wanted to write a novel, but are not in the habit of writing regularly and/or need some motivation and support to get that first draft done. It’s quite an accomplishment in itself to make it through the thirty days of November and cross that 50,000 word finish line.

The other part is more esoteric, and won’t appeal to every writer. By writing at speed, attempting to complete around 1700 words a day, every day, for a month, you leave your critical mind in the dust. You get to a point where you don’t know what the hell you’re writing about or where it’s coming from. This, naturally, produces some spectacularly bad writing; but it also, if you’re lucky, pulls some marvelous gems from deep within your unconscious mind.

This is my favorite part of NaNoWriMo. I’ve gone back over pages I wrote in sheer desperation, only to find that some of my best ideas happened during that flat-out, go-for-broke, headlong race to the next word-count goal.

Sign up for free at the site, join your local group if you want to meet up for socializing or strictly for collective writing, or proceed on your own. Check out the forums as a reward for completing your daily goal – or to get some encouragement, commiseration, or congratulations. There’s a forum where despairing WriMos can comfort one another, one where you can ask for suggestions or offer up your own unwanted plot ideas for adoption, and a forum for “Word Wars” where you join an impromptu group for a timed sprint. A very useful forum provides a place where you can ask technical questions that Google won’t answer – i.e., What might the living room of a middle class Iranian family look like? How does a police detective spend a typical day? Anybody know any Russian puns?

The site has many more ways to distract yourself, waste your time, or inspire you.

It’s a crazy time of year for something like this. Most people have to deal with some aspect of the holidays. I usually have a huge project for my freelance client in November, on top of my retail job. Many times, the last two years, I’ve come home at midnight after having worked all day at both jobs and realized that I still had a word quota to make. That I sit down, open up my draft, and start banging away at it is proof that I can be disciplined about writing. It helps me to know this for the rest of year.

I lost a lot of ground ten years ago when I had a three-year episode of depression that left me not only unable to write, but unable to read more than a sentence. It’s been slowly coming back ever since. For me, NaNoWriMo is like sending my brain on a month-long fitness retreat.

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