Next Monday kicks off the 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or NaNo, if you want to get even shorter about it), and after a three-year hiatus (one for grad school apps and two for grad school itself), I’ll be participating in my fifth year of frantic November writing.
First, a little background. NaNoWriMo is an annual competition of sorts in which the goal is to write 50,000 words of an original novel in the 30 days of November. You compete only against yourself, and the goal of the project is to get people to write. The idea is that set parameters (the thirty-day time frame) and a supportive community (without looking up the numbers, I believe there are hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world) helps people accomplish things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Also, having only 30 days turns off your internal editor and lets the creative juices flow (which is why many people have declared the rest of the year, but specifically December, editing time). There’s more information on the website, of course, but that’s a general summary.
I’ve been planning this post for a few weeks, but to be honest, I’ve been a bit nervous about writing it, because quite often events such as these don’t find a welcome home in the literary world, among “real” writers (quick, someone give me the definition of a real writer). I see “Why I hate NaNoWriMo” posts and tweets all over the web at this time of year. (I Googled a quick selection here, here, and here.) And really, I can’t understand why writers, of all people, would have so much anger toward people that want to…write.
My own involvement started in 2003, as a college sophomore, when I was still a chemical engineering major, when writing was still a hobby and not a legitimate career choice. For two days I stayed on track with the daily goal of 1,667 words and then my computer crashed, I lost my work, had a panic attack, declared I couldn’t possibly win now, and quit. I tried again in 2004, however, and though I’d just switched into professional writing, I still didn’t really understand a lot about writing. I had this sort of “what if” scenario in my head, but it sustained my piece for about 20 pages. I don’t remember what I did for the next 155 pages, but I remember recognizing even at the time that it was bad, but the feeling on November 30 when I hit the word count and saw that I’d passed 50,000 was pretty cool. I ended up revising the first 20 pages, but I’ve never touched the rest; there’s just nothing there.
By 2005 I was doing more writing than just in November, and for that year’s NaNo, I contacted the people that run the event and volunteered to start up an official subgroup in Lansing, which I would run for the next two years—one of which I won, and one I didn’t. During these two years, though, I met a lot of different writers. Some were completely casual and were writing for fun, because they’d always sort of wondered about writing, but never really thought they’d be able to. Others had ambitions of publishing. Lots of people didn’t finish, but quite a few did. But we all had moments that writers of all calibers can relate to: success, frustration, achievement, despair, failure. And we were all writers, even if for just those thirty days (or twenty days, or five, or ten, or however many days we lasted before giving up).
Because writing is hard, but we’re all writers when we’re writing. And that’s what NaNoWriMo does. And if it gives some people false hope, so be it, because it shows others skills they didn’t know they had. So give it a try, or don’t, but don’t knock on the people that do, because ultimately, they’re respecting the work we do by recognizing it as something worth spending time on. Because really, 50,000 words don’t come quickly, or easily.
If you are participating, look me up. Just remember, this is for fun.