For thirteen years now, a small non-profit organization based out of SanFranscisco has transformed the otherwise boring month of November into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), which is, as they put it, “thirty days and nights of literary abandon.” The idea is very simple: first, sign up online. Then, over the course of the month, write 50,000 words. If you make it to 50,000, you “win.” If you don’t make it, you’ve likely still managed to jump-start your writing ambitions with the support of the NaNo organization, which has grown from 140 participants the first year, to over a quarter of a million last year.
That’s it. There’s no hidden agenda, no contests or prizes, no fees. This is simply a program for anyone who has wanted to write a novel, but needed a kick in the pants. And that’s what I love about the whole enterprise: it’s for everybody. You might be a professional author, with a long list of bestsellers under your belt, or a lowly office assistant who had this idea a few years back and never got around to making notes. NaNo is all about people from all walks of life saying, “Yes. I’m doing this. I’m writing a novel, and here it goes.” All are welcome.
It’s such a refreshing attitude for the writing profession, which is probably the first or second most intimidating career plan in the world (along with acting). It can be so difficult to get yourself published, especially in these changing times. Professional writing has long had the stink of elitism all around it, an oppressive sense of failure that can push you down before you’ve even begun. NaNoWriMo is all about throwing those anxieties aside and embracing the fun, crazy parts of writing: not just the joy of creating a story, but also the caffeine overdoses, the sore typing fingers, the giddy sense of accomplishment when a scene comes together, the way a certain line of dialogue can seem so hysterically funny at three in the morning. Not to mention the sense of community: you’re working with a whole online group, of course, but many cities now have NaNoWriMo get-togethers, giving novelists the chance to hang out with maybe the only people in the world who understand their desire to write.
As much as I love NaNoWriMo, however, I myself am not a NaNoWriMo winner. A couple-three years ago, I signed up for my first NaNoWriMo, and ended up a NaNo loser. I think I made it to something like 30,000 words, far short of the 50,000-word goal. I didn’t just walk away from what I’d written, though – I kept going. After all, how could I abandon a project that had occupied my thoughts for a full month? And those 30,000 words grew to eventually become DEAD SPOTS, my first novel, which was just published last week. DEAD SPOTS took a total of eight months to finish, and eventually weighed in right around 90,000 words. Now, math has never been a friend of mine, but I believe that means I wrote about a third of the book in about an eighth of the time, thanks to NaNoWriMo. And if that’s being a loser, well, you can sign me up to lose every year.