Writers are solitary people who play with imaginary friends. We function best in spaces where we can shut the door. If that isn’t possible, we’re known to wear noise-cancelling headphones.
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” He failed to mention that afterwards, the writer has to tidy up the blood before it stains.
On a good day, words flow onto the page. On many days, a paragraph is a victory. And on all days, writers look for someone who understands what they’re trying to accomplish. Out of this question, Chris Baty and his writerly colleagues came up with the concept of National Novel Writing Month — a month of dedication enabling participants to produce a 50,000 word novel, which if you ask me is a bit on the short side. But never mind. NaNoWriMo provides a production deadline. The point is to get words on paper, sort of like speed writing.
The event occurs every November. I can’t imagine why the founders picked the month when the real world gears up for the feasting season to encourage creative folks to lock themselves away for a couple hours a day. But then again, what month doesn’t have its distractions?
This year’s participants began their writing journey last month when they planned their book — laid out a plot, or direction, or idea and populated it with enough characters to tell the story. Many participants never register with the official website, but all start writing on November 1.
Fifty thousand words sounds like a lot. It works out to 250 double spaced manuscript pages, which sounds even longer. But the writer is telling a story. She doesn’t think, “Oh, look, I’ve written 250 words today, more if I count the number of times my characters say, ‘ummm.’” She writes about the plucky heroine’s first encounter with the dragon. How ‘Rosamund’ encounters the creature by the roadside and feels sorry for him so she stops to chat. Pretty soon, chapter one will be done.
The key is to write the chapter without looking back. Don’t change the punctuation. Don’t worry about phrasing. If the writer stops to fix things, she won’t make the deadline.
According to the official website: National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
After eighteen years, National Novel Writing Month is a phenomenon. The Young Writers Program promotes writing in K-12 classrooms with writing workbooks, Common Core Curriculum, and virtual class management tools. Website sponsors support writers with on-line coaches, word count trackers, and structures for local community events. Participants challenge each other to word sprints and share tips. Writing is solitary. NaNoWriMo creates a writing community experience.
At 11:59 p.m. On November 30, participants take their last keystroke. The frenzy is over. At midnight participants are entitled to congratulate themselves. They did it. The novel is there.
On December 1, the real work begins. The anguish of reading one’s work. The slog through editing.
Over the years, 449 traditional published novels began as NaNoWriMo projects. One of these is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, published in 2006 and made into a movie in 2011. That sort of success is every writer’s dream. NaNoWriMo set Sara Gruen on the path to make her dream come true.
Illustrations in the Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Gerrit Dou, artist. Scholar sharpening his quill. 17th Century.
Girl Holding Pen While Writing.
Underwood Typewriter Keyboard.
Water for Elephants logo.
Jaxon Boog. “NaNoWriMo Is Big for Writers.” Publishers Weekly. Oct. 27, 2017.
Charlotte Runcie. “NaNoWriMo: How to Write a Novel in a Month. The Telegraph. Nov. 1, 2013.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.