The very exciting month of November is almost upon us! Exciting for me because November is National Novel Writing Month. For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge that was started nearly 20 years ago by some cool folks in San Francisco and has grown into an international event with over 400,000 participants each year. The core of the challenge, no the whole challenge, is to write a brand new 50,000 word manuscript in the 30 days of November. 50,000 words is about 170 book pages, the length of a short novel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Great Gatsby all clock in at about 50,000 words.
No one will read the manuscripts, no one will judge the manuscripts, more than likely (hopefully) no one other than the authors will ever even see the manuscripts. At least until they are thoroughly edited.
So what’s the point? Well as anyone who has ever tried to write something of substantial length knows, the biggest challenge is getting past the endless moments of ‘ok I’ve written that but don’t have another idea’ or ‘I don’t want to write that idea it sucks’ or any number of similar procrastinating moments that keep us from actually getting words on pages as days and weeks and years go by. One of my favorite writing quotes I like to put up on the wall: You can edit a bad page, you can’t edit a blank page. Sometimes it’s so easy to start listening to the inner editor’s criticism that we don’t get anything to edit in the first place.
NaNoWriMo turns this upside down: the one thing you must do is write, the things you don’t have to do are write well, coherently, or to a plan. If you want to achieve the word count goal you simply have to keep writing: you have to write the sucky idea anyway, you have to somehow find a way to write even when you have no idea at all. And, of course, it is through this volume of brainstorming and breaking through the procrastination factor and simply writing words on pages, that real story ideas and even the good stuff itself eventually comes. Inner editors who doubt and criticize everything have to take vacations during NaNoWriMo, they can’t keep up with the pace, and so creativity and inspiration flourish in their steads.
Anyway, with a few bells and whistles, that’s it, that’s National Novel Writing Month: a kick in the pants to get words on a page. You can register on the website, collect badges and writing buddies, read pep talks by famous authors, watch your word count go up and your words-to-be-written-per-day go down in nifty little graphs, but at the end of the day these are just tricks to get you to abandon your inner editor and get those words on the page.
There are other tricks: you can register with your region and go to meet ups, for one thing. I’ve met fellow participants in Portland, Boulder, and Florida, I even met fellow participants in Moscow. This usually means sitting silently around in a coffee shop or bar with a group of other nerds on laptops. Solidarity in word counts. Another trick is to bribe yourself with fancy chocolates: I like to get some exciting treats at the beginning of November that I can only ever eat at any part of any day if I’ve just written 500 or 1,000 words, and then I can have one. This is embarrassingly effective.
I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo 11 years and won 6. The years I didn’t win I was either in college and NaNoWriMo was one thing way too many, or I was in too deeply bad of a mood for that month/season and gave up without even really trying. Some years I’ve set the bar higher and completed 60, 70, even one year 90,000 words. I always have fun writing, but some of my most inspiration-packed and fruitful writing times have come in November because of the writer’s block the enforced word stockpiling and (inter)national solidarity break through.
People often ask what it means to “win” NaNoWriMo. Winning is simply finishing 50,000 words in 30 days. What do you get if you win? 50,000 words of a new story (or a big fat new chunk of a novel you are already working on), lots of ideas, lots of terrible prose, maybe some very nice prose, in a word: words. What keeps you from cheating? Nothing. Literally nothing. The site at the end of thirty days can verify that you have a 50,000 word document, and then tells you that you won. Easiest thing in the world to cheat. But if 100% of the reward is creation of the words themselves, what on earth would be the the point?
Anyway, I’m excited! The Novembers I’ve really committed have been some of the most fun months and I’ve written several novel chunks and one novel draft that have made it into finished novels. Other NaNo projects are saved away in files, hopefully to be revisited one day…
If you’re already participating in NaNoWriMo or think you might, add me as a writing buddy: Athena108.