by Bentley Clark
A fool’s errand? Perhaps, but I am only one fool amongst many. In November 2014, over 325,000 writers around the globe participated in National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo to initiates. Over 58,000 participants successfully completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Now in its 17th year, NaNoWriMo offers writers of all genres of fiction the opportunity—and excuse—to write their contribution to the canon of great world literature. Or, at least, to write what Anne Lamott affectionately calls the “sh*tty first draft.”
For a successful NaNoWriMo experience, I have found the following to be indispensable:
Fifty thousand words in 30 days is a daunting task, so it is important to find a community of writers who are facing the same victories and setbacks. The NaNoWriMo community is an incomparable support system. NaNoWriMo.org is a gateway to boundless encouragement, to connecting with NaNo Buddies and to exploring forums with topics ranging from “Backing up your work: How do you do it?” to “Are elephants capable of taking over the world?” Internet access can also be useful for wasting valuable writing time researching specific elements and the varied nuances of elephant coups d’etat.
If I manage to find 3 hours in the day to write and I average about 556 words per hour, I’m golden and will cross the finish line by 11:59:59 pm on November 30. Manageable goals are the key to NaNoWriMo success. Typically, getting 556 words on the page in an hour is nigh impossible as we writers pull our hair out for hours to find the right 556 words. Fifty thousand words is the goal of NaNoWriMo, not necessarily good fiction. In fact, travesties of good writing are encouraged: words can be misspelled, poorly chosen, grammatically incorrect or sheer nonsense, so long as they total 50,000. Many WriMos find that in November, sentence structure goes out the window, pronouns become optional and characters get three or four middle names, all in the name of word count.
Mardi Gras Beads
Writing a novel is serious work for eleven months of the year. Not in November. To stave off the tendency to take novel writing too seriously and to remind himself to enjoy the insanity, NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty, dons a costume Viking hat while he writes. I drape myself in cheap Mardi Gras beads. A friend of mine wears a Halloween witch’s hat. In addition to adding a bit of levity to the task at hand, costume pieces can remind well-meaning family and friends that you are committed to your goal and that they should interrupt you only when they are bringing you Nutella and banana sandwiches or when the dog has caught on fire.
It is no secret that notebooks are an essential tool for every writer. In addition to allowing you to jot down ideas and snippets of others’ conversation—in order to pad your word count—it can be interesting to document your emotional journey through November. There are days when 1,667 words fly from your fingers as though channeled from a higher power and there are days when putting together a single sentence seems impossible. November can have tremendous emotional peaks and valleys, all worth documenting.
In order to write a novel, you must silence your Inner Editor. Even more so in November. So, I also like to use my notebook to doodle portraits of my Inner Editor. Then I doodle a giant bear clad in clown regalia mauling him beyond recognition.
Stamina, Endurance and Resolve
It may be one of the shorter months of the year, but if you plan to write a novel in November, you must prepare yourself like a marathon runner. You must steel yourself mentally for the enormity of the task. You must recognize that there will be waxes and wanes of energy and enthusiasm. And you must learn to not look back because the goal is to cross the finish line, regardless of your state upon crossing it. And, most of all, you must have fun!
(Note: If this article was a piece of fiction and was written in November, I’d be 1.4% of the way there.)
To participate, sign up at www.nanowrimo.org.
Bentley Clark drinks far too much tea, cooks far too much food, watches far too many movies, owns far too many books, loves PBS beyond reason, and enjoys sleeping more than she’d like to admit.
This article was originally published in the October 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.