It’s got a utilitarian name, a bizarre abbreviated name, and it feels kind of silly to say out loud. But anyone who follows the writing landscape has at least heard of National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo. Started in July 1999 with 21 participants, it now has grown to an international effort with hundreds of thousands of people taking part, with a robust community and a supportive website.
For those who may not be sure exactly what NaNoWriMo is, let me fill you in. NaNoWriMo is an annual creative writing project that takes place during the month of November (apparently November is more conducive to time spent indoors writing than the original July). Every participant is challenged to “win” – to write 50,000 words (the minimum number of words for a novel) from November 1 until November 30 (approximately 1,650 words every single day). The idea is to give writers -both new and established – the impetus they need to keep going. To take an idea, flesh it out, outline it if that helps, clear other things off their calendars, find a place and time and focus, and write. To keep writing. To not stop, even if you hate what you’re doing, even if what you end up with isn’t all that good. The point isn’t to come up with the Next Great American Novel. The point is to Keep Going.
To that end, the NaNoWriMo organization gives expectant writers a lot of support. The website sets each participant up with a personalized dashboard allowing them to keep track of their progress, and giving them a platform to share as much as they want about their project. Along with the website, emails give tips, pep talks, reminders. Writers can join regions, based on geography, where not only are word counts and donations grouped, but folks can meet up virtually or in real life and give each other support and fellowship. It’s like a big online party. A big online party with a heckuva lot of work involved.
And this year…. I’m in. I’m doing NaNoWriMo.
Why? Well, I have always wanted to write this novel going on in my head, but even though I have what I think is a bitchin’ idea, I never seem to be able to find the time to just sit down and write it. Maybe I would do well on it for a day or two, but then I would bog down and lose steam. Or I’d allow other day to day activities to intervene, or else (more honestly) I would get sidetracked and find myself piddling my time away doing inconsequentials (yeah, I’m looking at you Facebook; and don’t you giggle, Twitter, you’ve been just as bad). In other words, I allowed myself to become undisciplined.
I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will give me the burst of discipline I need to actually get this story down “on paper”.
So what changed? Why now? Two words: NerdCon: Stories.
NerdCon: Stories was a convention held earlier this month in Minneapolis, where the central theme was “Why Stories Matter.” And in one of the mainstage sessions, Sarah Mackey, Director of Community Engagement at NaNoWriMo, gave a wonderfully heartfelt and compelling speech on why stories mattered to her. Her talk really resonated with me:
A few hours after her talk, I saw Sarah in the atrium of the convention center, and yes, she had a stack of NaNoWriMo inspirational stickers. I went up to her, and she rifled through all the different stickers, and asked me which one I wanted, which one would inspire me the most. I picked one that has a little brown rabbit on it, and the heading, “My Own Personal Plot Bunny”. And right then and there, I committed to actually “doing” NaNoWriMo. (The plot bunny sticker is sitting right by my mouse as I type this.)
Now, to be honest, I’m taking it pretty easy in my first (and possibly my only) NaNoWriMo experience. I’m not sweating it. No pressure. If it happens, great, sweet, it happens. If I fall short of 50,000 words, I fall short. I’m not going to stress about it, I’m not going to cry if I don’t finish, if I fall off the wagon I’m not going to drown in tears. But I am going to try. Because who knows? As they say, you won’t know until you try. So I’m gonna try.
And I’ll let you know how it’s going.
I won’t be inundating you with updates; once a week, maybe. But I would love it if you would follow along with me. The more the merrier!
So here’s update #1. I wrote this article on Sunday, November 1. Day One. After I “finished” writing on my novel for the night (I had to stop writing when the World Series came on – hey, priorities, you know?). I fell short on word count on this day, Day One: only 1,207 words when I should have had 1,600 to 1,700. Already behind right out of the gate. But that’s okay. I knew today was going to be a pretty busy day, and I didn’t anticipate really being able to jump in and get going until tomorrow, anyway.
And it’s already 1,207 words more than I had before. So yeah… it’s all good. And it’s going to get better. Me and my plot bunny, we’re in it to win it. Twenty-nine more days to go, and it’s going to be fun ride!
~ Sharon Browning