NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place every November. The point is to write a novel in 30 days, which turns out to be approximately 1667 words per day. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in it, and every year I have said, “Maybe next year.” The truth is, I could never really see the point. I’m a professional writer with several published novels to my credit. It seemed as though NaNo was for people who had no discipline or needed something like that in order to get the job done. How many, after all, finished anything worthwhile?
Plenty, as it turns out.
Well, this year, when I said, “Maybe next year” to my friend Pam Herber, she said, “You say that every year.” The gauntlet had been thrown.
So I did it. Every day I wrote approximately 1500-1800 words, with an extra spurt at the end that had me finish a couple of days before the deadline, and this is what I discovered:
1. I now have 2/3 of a poorly-conceived, messy, ugly, unwieldy first draft of a potentially good novel that I would not have had had I not participated in NaNoWriMo. I wish I had taken a week to prepare for my project, both plot and character, before the start of the challenge.
2. I had fun doing it, meeting friends in coffee shops to write together with headphones and caffeine.
3. I complained a lot because I didn’t get a Saturday or Sunday off, not even Thanksgiving Day, but I didn’t complain too loudly, because by Thanksgiving, magic was happening in the twists and turns and character development in my book.
4. I watched as my online NaNo “buddies” struggled with and overcame difficulties to also complete the challenge. Not all of them made it.
5. The pep talks the NaNo folks send almost daily are funny and insightful. Though I didn’t attend any regional events, they were frequent and looked to be a lot of fun. I might pop in on the Thank God It’s Over party tomorrow to accept my winner’s pin.
6. NaNoWriMo has writing events all year long. Darfinkle, my regional liaison, is going to give a presentation at the Wordcrafters in Eugene conference next March about NaNo and its camps and youth programs.
7. I read Chris Baty’s funny book, “No Plot? No Problem.” Chris is the founder of NaNo, and he might be more surprised than anybody about how well it has taken off. He has a lot of tips to writing a novel in this book and I found it to be a good read.
Really now, what is the need in the world population that NaNo has filled? That is a question worth considering, because I think that over 600,000 people registered this year, from all over the globe.
8. My process of writing urgently, under deadline, was more than validated. For 23 years I held a series of weekend retreats where all participants were required to write a short story in 24 hours. Though many never believed they could do that, nobody ever failed. 50,000 words in 30 days is a little different, but the same idea prevails.
So now I have a first draft to finish, reorganize, and polish.
Will I do NaNo next year?