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.