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.