Do you hear that steady tap-tap-tap of creative output? If you are like hundreds of other writers across the Inland Empire, you’re contributing to the cacophony of clattering keystrokes at a rate of 1667 times per day, every day, across November. Yes, that includes Thanksgiving, or as some culture groups celebrate it, Black Friday. For story-tellers, November is all about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an ambitious undertaking with a simple creative goal: Generate 50,000 new words towards the completion of a novel.
The goal creates a jam-packed month of good intentions, writing prompt interventions, and cringe-worthy rough draft prose not worth a mention. My vision this fine Fall weekend? Imagining you, sitting down to joyfully closing out your most productive month of 2019! It’s our last mile, so finish strong! Microwave that cold cup of coffee again, then close your door, open your laptop, and lay down some recognizable pattern of punctuation and letters until your “lit” fitbit surpasses 50,000 steps.
Where it all began
Like many awesome creations, this one’s a California kid. A group of San Francisco writers under the guidance of Chris Baty established this writerly output outpost in 1999. No word on how fears of Y2K, or the implementation of Prince’s directive to “Party like it’s 1999” contributed to this ambitious attempt. What is known is that by the next year, Y2 did not K and the party did not stop. Instead, NaNoWriMo became a “thing”, a beacon for writers across the United States and around the world. By 2015, close to half a million writers began the challenge on November 1st, and over 40,000 surpassed the word count goal by November 30th! In NaNoWriMo speak, this is called winning.
This year, more writers than ever will sashay into the holiday season in possession of a wonderful gift: A new novel. Granted, it’s not going to be a shelf-ready novel. It’s probably not even “share with your best friend” ready. However, with a bit of that focus and effort responsible for the 50,000 word draft, that first pass can be transformed into a printed book, bouncing around Santa’s sleigh, or an Amazon driver’s trunk, before you can say “Happy New Year!”
Although 2019 marks my fourth year of participation in this effort, I have yet to count myself a “winner.” But even without a mark in the “W” column, I’ve managed to make good use of the attempt. I can say that with confidence that NaNoWriMo, like strenuous cardiovascular exercise, improves the overall health of every writer who tries it for 30 days. Trust me, you will be proud of your “after” photo.
No More Flying Solo
NaNoWriMo improves a writer’s ecosystem in at least two useful ways. It places the writer within a landscape teeming with skilled artists. Nobody makes anything by themselves, writers especially. Posting 1667 words each day at nanorwrimo.org provides a collective sense to the effort. Through a “buddy-list” and forums, you can compare and commiserate with your pals. These resources, the humans and the tools they invent, are must-haves for an emerging writer. Would any modern scribe care to submit the next essay, blog post, or novella to an audience without using Spellcheck? Don’t even think about it.
Earn a Producer’s Credit
Writers need production goals. Deadlines help with open ended creative processes such as writing. Stories, as you may notice when they are particularly bad, can go on forever. Literally this is true so practically, you need a date on the calendar to work towards with the idea that you will stop, and the story will end. The frenetic pace leaves little room to question or consider. The deadline produces results. Pages and pages of results. There is no other way to feel more like a writer than to finish a project. Writing “The End” provides a cathartic moment for the novel writing process. The novel is written, no matter that it is unpublishable at this time. You have written a novel. Savor that fact.
For some of us, this is it. I now this from personal experience. My first NaNoWriMo effort in 2015, while not a “winning” effort – I managed 35,000 words and have not looked at it since – did place me on the producing track. Since that failure, I’ve published four books. The process instilled an ability to sustain the writing effort and overcome my natural tendency to procrastinate and doubt myself.
In 2013, NaNoWriMo added new series called “Now What?”. Like the original idea, these are structured as 30 day efforts, but focused on different steps of the writing process such as revising, editing, and shopping your work. You can stay connected with your new community through blogs as well as your preferred social media channels. You can put your work on a public website or lock it in a desk drawer. That destination is yours to choose and yours to reach. Wherever your writing takes you, make sure today is where it starts.
This originally appeared in the collaborative weekly column “Inlandia Literary Journeys” featured in The Press Enterprise