Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.
If you couldn’t tell by how prolific we are on this blog, both IP and I write a lot. Not only do our jobs require it, but we also enjoy writing in its own right. Both of us have been writing since childhood. We have traded tales of being kids, drafting our magna opera on innumerable sheets of loose leaf with the kind of fervor that only writers (and sometimes people on a sugar rush) have. Several years ago, I found out about an opportunity to channel that writing fever into something productive: National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo is a yearly creative writing concert around the world. Every year, the challenge is sent out for aspiring writers to draft a short novel in the month of November. Many of us who think of ourselves as writers or capable of writing have had an experience like this: we have an idea for that one book that we think will set the world on fire (an often unrealistic expectation) and can furiously generate ideas around the initial concept. Then, we sit down in front of our computer/typewriter/roll of papyrus and all of the enthusiasm drains out of us like someone let the air out of the balloon. Alternatively, we commit to a few pages, thrilled to be getting the words out, and the thoughts are coming faster than our fingers can memorialize them. Our brains are alive, burning ardently like the mental equivalent of a good cardio workout. We wrap up for the day after finishing a chapter or a scene and pledge to come back to do it all again tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. We try, but all of a sudden, the well has run dry. Thoughts, ideas, and plots have vanished into the ether. With them go our hopes and dreams of being the next Pratchett or Vonnegut. Our plans to leave a great imprint on the literary world fade and we are not even so much as the washed-away script of a palimpsest anymore. Sometimes we just excuse ourselves from writing. We have taxes to wash, children to drive, and pets to pay. There is just not enough time to go around, we reason, and so we slack off, planning to get around to starting that book eventually. It happens to all of us. I did NaNoWriMo in college but I stopped once in law school because November was the month to prepare for exams. Writing a novel had to take a backseat.
NaNoWriMo encourages us to break through all of those reasons not to write. Participants may write in any style and any genre they want. The goal is to write fifty thousand words in the month of November. That is roughly one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words per day. Great novels like The Great Gatsby, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Brave New World are about this length (I frankly wish some of the wordier authors whose works I read in high school kept it this short, and yes, I’m looking at you, Fyodor). The concept is simple enough, but what about the challenges I mentioned earlier? NaNoWriMo has extensively developed its community to facilitate discussion and trade tips. In addition to an online message board, there are also municipal liaisons: local point people who encourage writers in their area. Meet and greet events for fun and fundraising are ubiquitous. You won’t see me at any because, like the best writers, I’m a misanthropic recluse, but that’s beside the point. Participants are encouraged to work at their novels through the month through mutual support and are declared winners if they hit fifty thousand words before the month ends. Some of these novels have since been published by publishing houses and many more have been self-published. CreateSpace has teamed up with the Office of Letters and Light, the nonprofit that oversees NaNoWriMo, to offer paperback proofs of manuscripts to winning participants, who may then use the proofs to sell through Amazon.
The NaNoWriMo project started, like most good things in the world, in the Nineties. Freelance writer Chris Baty started the project in July 1999 with 21 participants in San Francisco. In 2000, he chose to move the project to November to have something to do during the dreary season and made a website. He made a Yahoo! group (remember those?) to raise awareness for the project. It was more successful than he expected; the number of participants swelled exponentially from 140 in 2000 to 5,000 in 2001. Baty credited reporting in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post for garnering such attention. By 2002, National Public Radio and the CBS Evening News were also reporting on NaNoWriMo, and the participant count nearly tripled from the previous year. In 2003, Baty started sending out pep talk emails and initiated the municipal liaison program. The project was officially registered as a nonprofit around 2005 or 2006. Baty stepped down as executive director in 2012 to become a full-time writer but the project remains incredibly strong.
Both IP and I are participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I’m thinking of finally finishing my project dating back to fourth grade, started on those many sheets of loose leaf many years ago. It was called “Last Luck” and chronicled Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon saving the world from the Negaforce (at least I think that’s what Luna called it in the anime, but the voice actress enunciated so poorly that she could have been saying Negaverse for all I know and it would still be as senseless) in plot points suspiciously reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII (hence the title “Last Luck”) and Mossflower, prequel to the critically-acclaimed children’s book Redwall by Brian Jacques. Oh, and there were other guys who hung out at Tuxedo Mask’s house and fought evil alongside him, kind of like Teen Titans if it were written by a pretentious fourth grader. I don’t remember all of them, but I know one was a black belt fighter named Kugo. He got killed of at the end of the first third of the book because, like TNT, I know drama. Kugo had spiky, black hair and wore an orange jumpsuit. Consider that I was also into Dragonball Z at the time and I’m sure you’ll make the connection. This has Pulitzer written all over it!
It isn’t too late to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve just finished my first 1,900 words. What are you writing? Leave a comment if you are joining in on the fun!