February 27, 2012

5 Ways NaNoWriMo Can Save Your Soul.

Even though NanoWrimo has been happening for years, very few of my astute friends seem to know about it.

So I’ll just lay it out: it’s National Novel Writing Month (i.e., November) an internet happening wherein people from all over the world get together on nanowrimo.org and do their best to bang out 50,000 words (about 150 pages) in 30 days.

I’ve been meaning to participate for years but kept putting it off. I was slogging through a dissertation, which I told myself was a practical pursuit.  So I put my novelling dreams on the back-burner. Well, screw that.

Now that I’ve decided I shall never touch my dissertation again and have invited the halls of academe to collectively kiss my ass, I’m having the time of my life with writing.  I started two weeks late (I was too wrapped up in Occupy Pittsburgh stuff).  But after bronchitis sidelined me from Occupying, I got down to the nitty gritty.

I still intend to reach the 50,000 word count by November 30, though. And this means that I need to write 3,000 words a day.

3,000 words a day? Of fiction? My brain says. I’m so not used to this pace.  But I’ve done it for the past three days in a row, and it feels great. Better than great.  It feels like being a rock star. Or at least a self-published Kindle star.  Which turns out to feel pretty damn bangin’.

Sami Keinanen

I’m up to 9,205 words. What am I writing? That’s a great question.  I’m not exactly sure.

I set out to write metaphysical / visionary fiction a la The Celestine Prophecy, but yesterday while writing it occurred to me that what I’m doing is a lot more like Tom Robbin’s Still-life with Woodpecker than anything overtly “spiritual” or “enlightening.”

In other words, my book is absurdist and extreme and philosophical and rather funny– which I am totally okay with.  I actually feel like I’ve met myself again.

I usually go through life thinking that I’m not especially hilarious. Because I’m not really a witty-quips kind of girl.

But I did write two-prize winning comedy plays back in my playwrighting era.  And as it turns out, my knack is for funny situations. Wow, it feels great to remember that.

I feel so great after my three days of NaNo’ing, that I decided to suggest ways that doing it might save your soul, too (it’s not too late to jump on board! or to get psyched for next year):

1) It can reconnect you to all those bizarre, arcane interests that you’ve been shoving off to the side. How does this happen? Well, you’re trying hard to meet your word quota for the day while making a main character interesting, so you assign him the first job-description that pops into your head: “Pittsburgh’s only successful alchemist” and then you get to spend a half hour on wikipedia reading up on the lost art of turning lead into gold.

2) It can bring you together with others! By this I mean, NaNoWriMo gives you something to talk about on Twitter. I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I feel stumped for things to say to the Twitterverse.  In my life last year, back when I was a humble private citizen instead of the attention-whoring authoress I am today, this would not have concerned me.  But the importance of getting down with social media in order to spread the word about my bad self has been so drummed into me that now I actually feel guilty if I go days with out tweeting.

My real life friends think that this is a pathology specific to me, but I know you tweeps out there in interweb lands dig what I mean. Well, the rad thing about NaNo is that I can just search for the #nanowrimo tag and instantly find lots of other brilliant creatures to commiserate and celebrate with.

3) It gives you something to do on dreary, ugly, cloudy, yucky November days.  Today, my whole dreary day was made better just by reading Tom Robbin’s irreverent novelling advice in the NaNoWriMo pep talk acrhives: “A topic is necessary, of course; a theme, a general sense of the nexus of effects you’d like your narrative to ultimately produce.

Beyond that, you simply pack your imagination, your sense of humor, a character or two, and your personal world view into a little canoe, push it out onto the vast dark river, and see where the currents take you. And should you ever think you hear the sound of dangerous rapids around the next bend, hey, hang on, tighten your focus, and keep paddling—because now you’re really writing, baby! This is the best part.”

Ed Yourdon

4) It lets you feel like a kid again. The breakneck speed of NaNo’ing doesn’t leave much room for literary pretensions to grip you.

You just gotta go go go, baby. And that turns out to be incredibly freeing and way more fun than trying to write The Great American Novel.

In fact, please never try to write The Great American Novel. It’s a pretty sure fire-way to end up crazed in a Hollywood dive or with a shotgun in your mouth


5) The sense of accomplishment can re-affirm your belief in yourself. If you’re anything like me, you put off great artistic aspirations because—well, they’re so great that they just seem too hard. This means that you never get started.

NaNoWriMo is so beautiful because it heavily lowers the bar. Not only do you not have to write the Great American Novel, you can just write “something that doesn’t make you want to throw up,” as NaNo founder Chris Baty likes to put it in his excellent and encouraging guide, No Plot, No Problem.


Edited by Hayley Samuelson


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