November – season of mists and frantic typing…
November begins toay, and all across the world writerly types are sidling up to each other and whispering out of the corners of their mouths, “Are you doing it this year?” IT, of course, is NaNoWriMo, the month where housework and personal appearance are tossed to the autumn winds while everyone tries to write as many words as possible. So what is a NaNoWriMo, and are you in?
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The brainchild of Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo was born in 1999 with just 21 participants, and has grown to become an internet-striding behemoth with over 200,000 members. The rules are simple, to “win”, you must write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th. You can plan and make notes as extensively as you like, but you can only start writing on November 1st – words written before then don’t count.
The motivational and friendly Nano website will keep a track of your words for you, allow you to post snippets and chat on the forums, and tell you how far you are from finishing at current rate of progress. The only prize is the satisfaction of completion, and the undying adulation of your writing buddies, so there’s no incentive to cheat, as you would only be cheating yourself.
Nano or Nono?
For a lot of writers, procrastination is something they’ve turned into a unique art form. For example, in the time I’ve been writing this I’ve checked my email (twice), printed out a recipe, made a cup of tea, emptied the recycling, had a ten-minute browse on Wikipedia, sent a text, and checked my Twitter feed. The joy and terror of Nano is that it doesn’t allow you to berk around like that. The aim is to write approximately 1667 words per day to prevent yourself from falling irretrievably behind. And that means getting out the bum glue and applying backside to chair and fingers to keyboard. No editing, no backtracking.
If you’re someone who is obsessive about getting the first page/line/paragraph right before you can move on, that probably sounds awful. If you are that person, and you’ve never managed to finish anything, it might be just what you need to break the “type, worry, delete” cycle and just write, gleefully and without fetters, for thirty days. If you’re the person who has found yourself in mid-novel slump and needs a kick to get going again, or someone who has got out of the habit of writing every day through the intervention of real life or laziness, it could be the push you need to get back into it (that’s why I’ve signed up this year, I’m slacking and I need a boot up the backside). If, however, you’re the person who thinks you can dash off a 50k novel in a month and then get it accepted for publication in January, because writing is easy…well, I give you ‘til Bonfire Night.
Highs and Autumnal Lows
Writing 50,000 words in a month isn’t going to be easy. I’ve never done Nano, but I’ve done the June equivalent, which was 30k, and I managed 25k – the consolation being that that’s about 20k more that I would have written if I hadn’t signed up for it. There will be days when everything is going great, days when you just write rubbish, and days when you feel like you’ll be lucky to have finished by NEXT November. The trick is to keep going, to reward yourself for doing well and not punish yourself for falling behind. Even if you don’t “win”, if you write every day you’ll still end up with more words than you started with. Not only more words, but hopefully a more disciplined writing routine, which is the real benefit. Writing is like exercise; if you don’t do it regularly your muscles become flabby and it’s very hard to get going again. NaNo is an intensive bootcamp workout for your writing brain, and hopefully you will emerge from it leaner, fitter, with a new sense of purpose and a great wodge of words under your belt.
The NaNoWriMo site also has extensive forums, a “buddy system”, and local chapters allowing NaNoing folk to meet up, write together and motivate each other in meatspace, so even if you don’t come out of it with all the words you want, you might just emerge blinking at the beginning of December with some new writer friends.
I’m hoping to complete this year’s NaNo by adding 50k to my novel-in-progress, which is floundering on the shore and mewling for attention. I will be posting snippets and the occasional wail of despair on the Nano site, and I’m Hierath over there if anyone else on here wants to buddy me. I’ll let you know how I got on, and what lessons I’ve learned, in a month’s time. See you on the other side!