Yes, writing maniacs, it is that time of year again.
“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.” About NaNoWriMo
So. Why do that crazy thing?
If you’ve never completed writing a novel it could be because you become overwhelmed with the idea itself. Or you figure it’s just too hard to find the time. Or that you never could write that many words. Or… well, there’s lots of reasons.
The one thing that I found to be true for me was that it’s easy to start a novel but not so easy to finish one. Somewhere not that far into the process I lose momentum. It wasn’t until I started with NaNoWriMo, coming on 14 years ago, that I discovered the secret to writing a novel: Write lots of words.
Hey, if you don’t believe me, believe Stephen King in his great book, On Writing (p 145), “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
I read a lot — no problem there for me. And I thought I was writing a lot, but if that was true seems to me there’d be at least one novel completed. Understand — I’ve been writing for a living for longer than I have been messing around with NaNoWriMo, but non-fiction writing is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. It’s easy to write 50 page and longer documents for a client month after month. Fiction? I had to come up with my own stuff to write about – stuff that hadn’t happened anywhere but inside my own head! And trust me, that was scary!
Do not be fooled by 50K!
Coming up with that many words is hard to do at first. It seemed impossible that first year or so. But it was worth it because it turns out that 50,000 words is enough to push me over the hump and onto the slide towards The End of a proper length novel (i.e. significantly more than 50K words). But I didn’t know that when I started. And I didn’t find out the first year, or the second.
I forget how many years till I did it for the first time – and let me tell you, that was quite the day, the day I got to submit my 50K. And what came of it? I mean, do you see a novel around Amazon with my name on it? (Yes, I do have a book on Amazon, but it’s not a novel. It did come about indirectly because of what NaNoWriMo taught me, though).
So what did NaNoWriMo do for me? I learned I could make up enough stuff every day to seriously write. I learned this by setting my butt on my chair and my fingers on the computer keyboard every single day for a month to churn out at least 2000 words a day. Yeah, I know — if you do the math, you “only” need to write 1666.66 words a day to get your 50K by the end of November. But there are days when Life Happens. Thanksgiving, here in the USA, for one thing. And other real obligations that mean missing a day of writing now and again. So I learned to write more than the minimum each day. If, somewhere before the 30th of November I reached 50k, well, so much the better.
Along the way to 50k (hey, that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it), writing the required number of words every single day taught me to stop getting all caught up in writing the correct words, instead of just writing words. Because it’s writing words that gets the story out.
The need to churn out the 2000 words meant I dragged in all kinds of ideas that I might not have otherwise in order to make my daily quota. Those ideas led to other ideas, and had my characters doing all sorts of interesting things that they might not have done if I had been wedded to writing correctly.
Because you can always come back and fix the writing. But that takes precious time. And besides, first you have to have something to fix.
A close corollary is that I learned that my words weren’t precious. I had churned them out and when the time came to edit, well, hey. I had proven to myself I could churn out more if I had to. I don’t just delete, mind you. Because my words are a teensy bit precious to me. My darling words that get cut from my edits go into file folders for later use. Not that I tend to ever bother looking at them, but I could if I wanted to.
It’s a comfort knowing they’re safely there. It allows me to be more ruthless than I might be otherwise. Believe me, ruthless is necessary, but not for NaNoWriMo. For after November 30.
Counting down to November
So here I am, about to embark on my 14th NaNoWriMo. I’ve reactivated my account for 2017. Donated some money to the cause (not a requirement, but it’s a non-profit, and if/when I get my first novel out there, I’ll have gotten so much more out of NaNoWriMo than I have ever given them!)
I’ve given no thought whatsoever as to what I’ll write in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter. I’ll write. For 30 days (well, 29 since Thanksgiving is happening no matter what) I’ll have the luxury of telling people, sorry. I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I can’t go anywhere. I can’t do those things you’d like me to do.
I’m a writer. I gotta write.