Taking a few moments to come up for air . . .
The other day, this quote landed in my email inbox, care of the Sierra Club’s Daily Ray of Hope email:
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ? C. S. Lewis
Naturally, I thought of National Novel Writing Month, set to begin again on November 1, and I wrote an email to my mother to encourage her to give NaNoWriMo a shot this year.
But what about you, too? Want to give writing a novel a try?
You could write a romance novel, YA fantasy, historical saga, whimsical comedy, science fiction epic, or really anything you want. 50,000 words in 30 days sounds like a lot, and it is. But it’s just a first draft, and it’s guaranteed to be crap. So don’t worry about turning out the next Anna Karenina or Great Gatsby.
?The first draft of anything is shit.? — Ernest Hemingway
But it is a place to start.
Valhalla was my 2008 NaNoWriMo project. Iduna’s Apples — set to release (I hope) in December — was my 2009 project, and I’m getting ready to write the third volume in this series this November. I also have a collection of other first drafts I plan to rewrite and whip into shape for publication.
Water for Elephants got its start as a NaNoWriMo project.
You don’t have to publish if you don’t want to — although many of these manuscripts do get self-published even when they shouldn’t (look for another blog post on that subject). Many people who participate in NaNoWriMo do so just so they can check “write a novel” off the bucket list.
I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but most people who start NaNoWriMo each year don’t make it across the 50,000-word finish line by midnight on November 30th. Some of those projects end up languishing for months or years or are never completed; others get finished a few days or a few weeks past the deadline. There’s no prize for “winning” NaNoWriMo, other than having a completed first draft of your very own. So if you’re hesitant to sign up because you don’t think you’ll be able to finish, rest assured you’ll be in fine company.
I first tried NaNoWriMo in 2004, a few months after I relocated to Portland. Writing a first draft in 30 days like this was a revelation. I’d spent a good year — or longer — on the first draft of my previous novel, Rhythm (2001). That first NaNoWriMo attempt, I relied heavily on a meticulously researched outline. In the years that have followed, however, I’ve become increasingly comfortable beginning with a very rough idea of plot and a few characters I’m interested in exploring. For me at least, I find this leaves more room for spontaneity, humor, and delightful mayhem.
It’s a challenge, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. I’d shied away from NaNoWriMo when I first heard about it in 2003. I thought it would be too hard. I was completely intimidated by the idea of writing 50,000 words in a single month.
And now I honestly look forward to it every year.
Whether you’re thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo or just are curious about writing a novel at any time of year, I highly recommend the book, No Plot? No Problem! written by Chris Baty, one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. In this “NaNoWriMo survival guide,” Baty gives excellent advice on the first-draft writing process in general — which is mainly to get out of your own way.
Anyway, if you register on the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll find online forums full of helpful and enthusiastic souls from all over the globe ready to help each other with plot bunnies, writer’s block, and research — not to mention my favorite forum thread, “NaNoisms.” You can connect as “writing buddies” with other participants and find NaNoWriMo write-ins right in your own neighborhood, so there’s a social element as well for those who want it.