NaNoWriMo: a mad (but brilliant) idea

November is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is simple – you have from November 1st to November 30th to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch. Straight through. Why do something like this? Or, as their FAQ puts it:nanonovember120x238

If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

Hard to disagree. I’d been contemplating using it to try and get my novel-in-progress finished, but you aren’t allowed to use something that’s already underway. Their reasons?

This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.

It’s a brilliant idea. Essentially the same as “process writing” – an exercise I give people often, but am absolutely crap at doing myself. (You sit down for a fixed amount of time, and just write non-stop. Anything. The only rules are no stopping, and no editing.) It’s a wonderfully liberating thing to do – to write without worrying about things like quality or intention or ambition. Just writing. (As I said, I’m really bad at it.) And there have even been published novels come out of NaNoWriMo in the past: this link should take you to the list.

So, am I going to have a go at NaNoWriMo?

Ummm, no. Not this year. I’ve got a few million too many things that have to be done this month, and I’ve only just started writing poetry again. Plus the month has already started. (Alright, only five days gone, but it’s still ‘started’.) Next year though, I’ll try to keep my November clear enough to have a go at it. 

I’d love to hear from anyone out there who’s taking part.

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5 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: a mad (but brilliant) idea

  1. I’ll bet! As for trying to come to terms – it doesn’t seem too hard to come to terms with $16,000 🙂
    Of course there’s always the anticipation of publication. Hope you’ll have a book launch in Christchurch

  2. I did NaNoWriMo in 2006. It was a fantastic experience, and I highly recommend it. I made it to 50,000 words with a day to spare. Got up an hour earlier and wrote around 1750 words a day, without editing as I went. The story wasn’t too bad, but I never found out how it ended, cos I was exhausted and stopped when I got to 50,000.

  3. Hi Laurice,
    well done! I’m deeply impressed. The exhaustion is the thing that would worry me the most.
    Have you revisited the story at all, to see if there’s anything worth salvaging?

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