Tag Archives: writing


November is National Novel Writing Month, better known to the cognoscenti as NaNoWriMo. During NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel. That’s a lot of words. If you write every day, it’s 1,666 words per day. If you want your prose to be flawless, you probably won’t succeed, which is why the organizers have established rules to help you.

The NaNoWriMo rules say that you are not to edit, delete, or otherwise second-guess yourself. You can’t go back and revise; you have to keep moving forward. The idea is to free yourself of any writing-related activities that will slow you down. You’re supposed to let your imagination do its thing. NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. As a matter of fact, if your imagination refuses to do anything, the organizers suggest you copy the phone book just to keep the words flowing.

At the end of the month, you submit your document to their word count gonkulator, and it verifies that you’ve met or exceeded the goal of 50,000 words. Success means you’ve “won” NaNoWriMo, for which the only prize is a PDF that says as much, and bragging rights.

The year the contest was created, 1999, 21 hardy souls participated. The next year, there were 150. By the third year the number had climbed to 5,000 and by 2009 there were over 167,000 registered writers. The number of people who actually “win” is much lower. In 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, only 19% won.

I am one of those people for whom NaNoWriMo works like a charm. To write without listening to the critical voices in my head is beyond liberating. I know I’ll need to go back and do some serious editing when the month is over, but that prospect is far less daunting to me than facing a blank page. The fascinating thing is that I need NaNoWriMo to give me permission to behave in a certain way. I’ve registered and “won” NaNoWriMo twice, this will be my third time.

As I observed at the beginning, 50,000 words is a lot of words. Fortunately for me, Young Adult novels tend to run from 45 to 55,000 words. I was able to write the bulk of the first draft of my first YA novel during last year’s NaNoWriMo, a feat I hope to repeat this year.

Meanwhile, I have written almost 400 words for this blog post. If I used this as the beginning of my NaNoWriMo writing for the day, I’d only have 1,200 or so words to go, but it’s far too early in the game to be stuck for words so I’m going to wait a while. If my imagination takes a vacation, I’ll insert a blog post into the middle of the novel. At least I won’t have to copy the phone book.

Writers get no respect

I’m writing a book. You’re writing a book, too? I’m not surprised. It seems that everyone and their uncle has written, is writing, or wants to write, a book. I say good luck to all of you. Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I understand how hard it really is to do. I’ll hazard a guess that most writer-wannabes will never get farther than, “It was a dark and stormy night,” even though they could, if they could just find the time.

I’ve worked with words my entire adult life. As a marketing person I’ve written all kinds of things; web pages, brochures, white papers and press releases. I’ve compressed countless pages into PowerPoint presentations, and incorporated oodles of questions into FAQs. I’ve edited technical manuals and books. Why, back in the day, I even wrote copy for print ads (remember when software was advertised in magazines?). These activities never seemed to increase my cachet with upper management though. Why? My observation is that business people (in high tech) don’t view the ability to write as a talent. At best, it’s a commodity service. After all, they can write. They could have done that ad, press release, brochure, what-have-you, if they had to. You learn how to write at a young age, there’s really nothing to it.

I contend that artists don’t have this problem. Most of us readily acknowledge our artistic limitations. I would never claim that my ability to draw a stick figure puts me in the same league as Picasso (although some of his stuff is downright childish). If your special talent involves drawing, painting, or designing with Illustrator, you’re probably consistently praised for your work. I always found it particularly galling when I’d present a finished piece, something that incorporated my copy and the designer’s artwork, to the boss, who would look it over and say, “Looks good.” Looks good? Did you read any of the words?

If they did read the piece at some point in the process, it was inevitable that they would spend time re-writing it. These were important people, with lots of important things to do, who still, apparently, had time to spare to do a quick rewrite. On one memorable occasion, I used the word ‘massive’ in a press release. The CEO and I went round and round in an email exchange arguing the relative merits of that word. I finally wrote, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Massive is the word I want to use there.” His response, “Oh, okay.” He just liked to dust it up with the writer – because he could.

Software developers never have this problem. One thing that high tech business honchos know is that they don’t know how to write code. I should have listened to my mother and learned how to program. Then if I said, “I’m writing a software program,” the response would be, “Yeah? How about those Red Sox?”