In 2002, several friends and I embarked on a challenge we were enthusiastic about, but didn’t really believe could be done: we would each attempt to write a novel, in its entirety, in the space of a month.
This project, called the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short), seemed ambitious to say the least, but we thought it would be fun to try, so we dusted off the story-writing parts of our brains and got to work
The results were nothing short of phenomenal. Not only did we all finish, many of us finished with days to spare, and almost everybody agreed that their thrown-together series of characters and plot points had been the best things they’d ever written. We were excited about our stories, and we were excited about the idea of polishing our masterworks over the following months, editing and adding on finishing touches.
Personally, I had never written anything longer than a short story in my life, so I was shocked when a publisher contacted me about my manuscript. Nothing ever came of it, but I was certainly flattered and encouraged that my meek little attempts at creating literature had gotten any attention at all.
NaNoWriMo has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and 2008 will mark the 10th time that writing enthusiasts from around the globe have banded together and used November to turn themselves into novelists.
The concept is simple: starting at midnight on November 1st, you have 30 days to take your merry band of hastily made-up characters through 50,000 words of plot twists and turns. Quantity is all that matters, and you are expressly forbidden to spend time fretting about quality (editing is something you worry about in December). Just get the word count in, and you’re good.
50,000 words may seem like an impossible mountain of writing, but when you break it down into manageable pieces, it’s really not all that difficult. 1,667 is the daily word goal, and that is easily doable.
I’m pretty slow at sentence construction and I tend to get distracted by other things while I’m writing, but even for a daydreamer like me, 1,667 words only takes a couple of hours to write. Some of my more efficient friends can get it done in an hour or less.
Think about the trade-off: give up an hour of evening TV for 30 days, and in return you get to call yourself a novelist, a title which no one will ever be able to take away from you. That’s a pretty sweet deal.
Aside from the nitty gritty of writing, the NaNoWriMo experience includes all manner of social outlets and ways to connect with your fellow aspiring novelists. Forums, pep talks, and local get-togethers all serve as a support system to help you out when the going gets tough. In addition, you can buy t-shirts and other goodies from the web site, and every participant gets a cool little graphic banner to place on your web site or blog.
There might be some of you out there who think that you don’t want to do something silly and pressured like NaNoWriMo because you’re waiting until you have the time to do your novel the correct way. How’s that plan working out for you so far? Yeah, thought so. I used to be in that camp, too, until I realized that the best way to do something is just to do it and get it done.
Even if at the end of November your story is nowhere near where you thought it would be and needs a lot of editing, at least you’ll have a significant draft to work from, and that’s something concrete, which is infinitely better than vague plans of “someday” and “maybe later when I have enough time.” What have you got to lose?
So if you can spare an hour or two a day in November, you may as well join up and see what happens. Membership is free at nanowrimo.org, and there’s no harm in trying it once — you just might surprise yourself.