Can you write a 175-page novel in 30 days? NaNoWriMo thinks you can. You, and about 100,000 other people.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, 11/1 through 11/30, each year. The website is nanowrimo.org. This is one of the best experiments on the internet. NaNoWriMo wants to you write 50,000 words in one month. They believe you can do it; they know you can do it, and they will help you, with regional support groups, communal coffee-house writing dates, friendly competition between regions, and pep-talk e-mails from famous and not so famous writers. They will also allow you to upload your words, and see for yourself how well you are doing at reaching that 50,000 word goal. (Don’t worry, the upload is encrypted. No one will hijack your deathless prose).
To meet this challenge, you have to write the daily equivalent of 1667 words. If you know you won’t write on Thanksgiving, you could write 3334 words the Wednesday before, because the NaNoWriMo clock keeps ticking.
Why this frantic pace? As many of us know from bitter experience, writing is about momentum. Too many gifted writers get trapped in perfection paralysis. Here’s how it goes. You have an awesome idea for a novel. It’s in your head, fully mapped out, with rich, complex characters, sparkling prose, a plot trickier and cooler than The Da Vinci Code. You plunge in, high on that white-hot flush of creativity. If you’re lucky, this phase lasts until about chapter three, when you start realizing that you haven’t properly anchored your backstory. . .or, it’s page 50 and you’ve already used the word “irridescent” six times. . . or, there’s no reason your main character, who was raised by wolves, would know American Sign Language. . .or, like exercising, it’s not fun anymore and you aren’t seeing the results you wanted. At this point, one of two things happens: 1) You go back to the beginning. Again. And again. And again. . . or, 2) The whole work slowly falls inward on itself like one of those imploded buildings they show on the Discovery Channel.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t want your work to be perfect. It wants you to write. It isn’t about perfection, it’s about committing to the process and finishing. As one of the pep-talk e-mails said last year, “It isn’t about rewrites. December is for rewrites.” If you actually sign up to participate and log your word count, or upload your prose, you get a counter that shows you how you are doing. Accountability, right there on your screen.
I participated in NaNoWriMo last year. I knew two other writers, Laura and Robin, and I checked in with them, wrote e-mails of encouragement, etc. They did the same. I wrote more than 50,000 words. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news; in the intervening 11 months I still have not completed the remaining 50,000 words of my proposed 100,000 word action novel. I’m three chapters from the end, stalled.
I was tempted to do NaNoWriMo again this year, and start a new project, but I know myself well enough to see that idea for the desperate ploy it was. I would love to join in again and feel the rush and the camaraderie, but I owe it the project I’m working on to finish it.
Instead I’m going to do MiniWriMo. I’m going to give myself a baby-step word count of 500 words a day from 11/6 until the end of the month. (Blog postings do not count.) That should more than finish the book. If I get to the end of the book, then I can stop. I’ll miss the fun of the website, but maybe I’ll log one once in a while and at least listen to NaNoWriMo radio. I can pretend I’m part of the group.
Can I do it? Can I write 12,500 words, or finish the book, before December 1? I guess we’ll see.