Friday, October 28, 2011

What have I done?

I did something wild and impetuous tonight. I registered for NaNoWriMo.

Before I explain what that is (though many writers among you will already know), I'll blame it on my friend Patty.

Patty and I are old and dear friends. Unfortunately she now lives far away, so our occasional phone calls will often turn into two-hour marathons of yakking. This afternoon was no exception as we caught up on each others' lives.

And the subject of writing came up. Patty was contemplating doing NaNoWriMo, and she talked me into it too. (See Patty? This is all your fault.)

So what is NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month's time.

It's a crazy thing, the concept of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. But can it be done? Yes. And here's the thing: I have an idea for a novel bubbling about in my subconscious. Maybe this will be the kick-in-the-pants I need to get it on paper.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo about ten years ago but never had the urge to participate. Then a few years ago I picked up a book called No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo. Frankly I had very low expectations about the book. I've read dozens of how-to-write book over the years, and they're all pretty good but not profound. But writing a novel without a plot? How the heck can you write a novel without a plot?

But to my utter and complete surprise, the concept is enthralling –- and sensible. Inspired by the nagging of the author, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time about three years ago. And wow, did it blow me away.

Nothing came of that pathetic banged-out proto-novel. But so what? The point is, I did it. I wrote 50,000 words in a month.

With NaNoWriMo, you take the month of November and just write. Don't let trivial details like a lack of plot or talent get in the way. Just sit down at your computer and write. Rather surprisingly, if you can get through the doldrums of Week Two, your incipient novel may actually turn out to be not half-bad. This means, in the immortal words of the author, "you should lower the bar from 'best-seller' to 'would not make someone vomit.'"

Here are some excerpts from No Plot? No Problem!:

• The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It's the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen.

• Which is how most of us becomes "one day" novelists. As in, "One day, I'd really like to write a novel." The problem is that that day never seems to come, and so we're stuck. Or we were stuck, anyway. Because as far as artistic deadlines go, this book comes with a doozy.

• If there's one thing successful novelists agree on, it's this: the single best thing you can do to improve your writing is to write. Copiously.

• A handful of participants have gone on to edit and sell their creations to big-time publishing houses. The biggest success stories of National Novel Writing Month, though are rarely the published ones. These are the stories of everyday people who, over the course of one frantic month, discover that literature is not merely a spectator sport. Who discover that fiction writing can be a blast when you set aside debilitating notions of perfection and just dive headlong into the creative process.

• The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy...By giving yourself the gift of imperfection, you tap into the realms of intuition and imagination that your hypercritical brain normally censors.

From its rather pathetic inception in 1999, NaNoWriMo has blossomed into the biggest word-press on the planet, involving over 200,000 people from dozens of countries.

From Wikipedia: "No official prizes are awarded for length, quality, or speed. Anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner. Beginning November 25, participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length and receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on the web, and inclusion on the list of winners. No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the only significant reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat."

Anyway, for better or worse, I'm enrolled. I finally have an excuse to take this nascent idea I've had kicking around in my skull, and put it on paper. 50,000 words divided by 30 days is 1667 words/day. Skip a day, and I'll have to double up.

If my prior experience with NaNoWriMo is any guide, I'm in for a wild, crazy, laugh-and-cry month. It means I'll have to fit those 1667 words around my regular schedule of writing, homeschooling, working, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, taking the kids to lessons in the city, etc.

Patty and I are embarking on this together, and we'll see if we can make it happen. But whether or not we cross the finish line, we'll have more of our novels written at the end of the month than we did at the beginning.

Making this announcement to you, my readers, is rather brash... because it also means I'll have to live up to your expectations.



  1. You can do it! I "won" during my third year of participating, and even though it was probably one of the worst fantasy romance mystery novels ever written, it was 52,000 words and I was proud of my effort. The first and last ten thousand words are the easiest, so don't give up when you're in the middle!

  2. I've heard about this for years and thought it was a good idea. Thanks to you, I just signed up too! Does this mean I get to blame you? LOL
    Seriously, it's a "no loose" deal and could provide the encouragment I need. Thanks!

  3. I did this with a friend of mine last year. Trying to get 50,000 words in 1 month is a lot harder than it sounds. I ended up succeeding and have been editing my book ever since. We decided not to do it again this year since we are both still working on last year's stories, so instead we are doing our own NaNo WriMo bootcamp. We have set goals for ourselves this month to help complete our novels and will be meeting once a week to make sure we are staying on track.

    Good luck to you and your friend.

  4. God Bless your endeavor.

    I'm an editor for a small Christian fiction publishing house and a lot of our writers came from NaNoWriMo.

    You can do it.

    Love your blog, I try to read it every day.

  5. How fun! I've looked at NaNoWriMo for years and never done it. You may just have inspired me to take the crazy leap this year!

  6. My daughter talked me into participating two years ago and I actually finished 50,000 words! It was a blast and a very good exercise in persevering. I did it last year also and had a great time, although I didn't finish. Good Luck in your adventure! I'm skipping this year as I have too many other goals on my plate right now. Planning on next year for sure.

  7. Here I am, an amiture and horrid speller, and I think I would like to use this idea to finally type out some of my memories. The way I grew up is different than my children and even my mom grew up doing things different than she did with us. A couple years ago at a bazzarr I purchased a silverhaired ladies memories she had typed up. I really enjoyed reading the adventrues she got into. *smile* Have fun typing or writing your ideas down. Sincerely, Mommy of two little blessings & so much more!

  8. I love it!! This will be my 3rd year and I am looking forward to it. That push to get it done, the encouragement at seeing your word counter fill up, the joy at completion are all amazing things!! You will do great!

  9. I'm embarrassed to admit that I signed up for NaNoWriMo a few years ago and never got past the 2.000 word mark.

    Maybe I should do like "amiture" and write my memories? Maybe then, I'd get to the 50.000 word mark.


  10. Sounds exciting.

    Does this mean your blog posts are going to be shorter?

  11. I can't believe you wrote about this! And I can't believe so many others have tried it and done it! I did it!

    Well, actually, I got as far as 17,000 words before real life intervened. I never did finish my first one - but I still can. It's such a freeing exercise in creativity - something I need in my work, though my work isn't writing.

    I learned that 1700 words a day is WORK. But in order to meet the daily deadline, I just kept cranking.

    Now that I've seen so many others try it, I think I'll use their tips and give it another shot..."It was a dark and stormy night..."

    Just Me

  12. Patrice, Patrice, Patrice. You're really tempting me... I've had a fantasy story kicking around my brain for a few years. Intro to the main character, setup, one exciting scene but then blank. Hmmm, what to do? Try it?

    How many pages is 1700 words? Heck, how many pages do 50,000 words typically cover? Any NaNoWriMo junior equivalents?

  13. Ok, just found something even cooler. They have a "Young Writers Program" where youth participants can set their own goals. I just sent the YWP link to my daughter's teachers. :o)

  14. Patrice,

    Thank you so much for your inspiration! My 10 year old daughter just signed up for the Young Writers Program, and I must say that she is so excited to do this. I had never heard of NaNoWriMo before, so we're doing this because of you. :-)

    My daughter absolutely loves to write. She has notebooks full of her writings, not to mention the numerous files that she has on her computer. I would love to see my daughter reach the 50,000 words, but if she doesn't the experience alone will be well worth the effort. We're really excited for her.

    Thank you so much for posting this! I wish you the best!

  15. Neat. My just-about-to-turn 11 year old wants to try the YWP.

    I'm almost convinced to try it myself but can't decide between two concepts:

    #1 - Fantasy novel

    #2 - "Parenting Adventures with Captain Autism and Miss Bright Eyes" about the highs/lows/funny parts of raising a boy with autism and a girl who's too smart for my own good.