No NaNoWriMo for me this November, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be eagerly watching posts at WordPress, Tumblr, Pinterest and across the far-too-many bookish and writerly sites and blogs I follow so I can share the adventure with those brave souls who’ll take the pledge this year.
NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, that being November, and more specifically, NaNoWriMo is the annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. It’s been going since 1999, with nearly 800,000 active novelists participating and over 360,000 novels completed.
Grant Faulkner and the NaNoWriMo staff’s Inkwell column in the current issue of Writer’s Digest magazine address ten key NaNoWriMo expectations vs. truths (it being “The Truth Issue” of WD), key among them the understandable assumption that the NaNoWriMo challenge is undertaken only by first-time writers and the unpublished. In fact, prior NaNoWriMo participants have included authors like Sara Gruen (Water For Elephants), Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), Marissa Meyer (Cinder, Scarlet, etc.), Elizabeth Acavedo (The Poet X) and other successfully published and even bestselling writers.
The NaNoWriMo organization (link below) states: “NaNoWriMo believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide structure, community and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals and build new worlds – on and off the page.” Participation is free. The NaNoWriMo site offers support and tools to writers taking the pledge. And it’s a daunting challenge. 50,000 words no longer adds up to a complete novel, but it’s a generous portion. And that works out to 1,667 words per day. Everyday. For an entire month, one that kicks off the holiday season with all of the activities and family obligations that might involve. But for a would-be novelist who’s struggled to start, or felt too intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming process, the annual NaNoWriMo event may be precisely the impetus needed to unleash their inner writer and finally commit to making a meaningful start.
No doubt there are many publishers, editors, agents, booksellers and published novelists who recoil in horror at anything that helps to pump hundreds of thousands of novelists – many if not most being newcomers — and hundreds of thousands of novels into an already overcrowded marketplace. But no one suggests that the 50,000 words generated by each of the successful participants will be publishable, or a complete first draft. Or, even any good. But they will represent the vital first step in a daunting and time consumptive creative and executional process, and for many, may be the beginning of a successful ongoing effort.
Several years ago, I pledged to give NaNoWriMo a try. Much of that October was spent collecting notes and references, tightening up my outline and doing my best to ‘clear the deck’ of potential intrusions by Halloween night — ready to plunge in right at the stroke of midnight and the start of November. And I was actually doing slightly better than 1,667 words per day for a solid week and a half…till day job mandates intervened with firm directives demanding multiple late nights and weekends, and for weeks to come (almost Xmas before things slowed down, in fact). Within days, it became apparent that I’d get no further than the nearly 25,000 words I had in hand. Well, not if I wanted to continue to draw a paycheck. Reluctantly, I gave up.
This year? New challenges I don’t need at the moment. Aside from ongoing querying for The Stiletto Gumshoe, I’m 40,000 words into its sequel, and have started two related short stories. It’s no time to pause to undertake a NaNoWriMo challenge.
But for those who will – or are even considering it – you’d better plan to get your jack-o-lantern carved ahead of time and to finish this year’s Halloween costume soon. Probably best to volunteer for the Halloween Party’s designated driver role come Thursday the 31st unless you’re one of those writers who believe that the best work’s done when sloppy drunk. ‘Course, when you’re obliged to average 1,667 words per day every day, even sober writing could sound like it came from someone who’s had a few.
Good luck to all the brave souls who undertake the NaNoWriMo challenge this year!