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Monday, November 10, 2008

November is National Novel Writing Month!

We're 10 days in to NaNoWriMo (NationalNovelWritingMonth condensed) this year and hope all of you participating are happily chugging along with word counts! Michelle, an ASU writer and veteran NaNoWriMo participant, shares some of her hard-earned wisdom and continuing battles with the 50,000 word count goal.

How long have you been doing NaNoWriMo?

I've been trying to write a novel in a month for five years now, ever since I first heard about it back in 2003 when I was a wee high school baby.

For the curious, here are my stats:
2003: 846 words
2004: 12,417 words
2005: 20,182 words
2006: 18,926 words
2007: 5,906 words
2008: 27,124 words and counting!

What have been your experiences with NaNoWriMo?

Well, I guess the "bad" experiences would be when I didn't win--which has so far been every year. This year, though, is definitely looking up in that regard! But even losing isn't that bad, because you still have a start on a novel! I actually finished my first NaNo novel the summer before I entered college. I also continued work on my (super failed, second worst word count ever) 2007 NaNo for a workshop class...which was possibly a mistake because it kind of made me hate it and life, but I'm sure the feeling will pass...

What have been the benefits of doing NaNoWriMo for you?

I think the number one benefit of doing NaNoWriMo is that it takes that ancient legendary beast of writing--the writer who writes every day--and turns it into a reality for a lot of people. Then it's not just some mythical author with a kajillion published books saying, "Oh well, if you really want to be a writer, you have to write every day." It's something infinitely more understandable and approachable: a deadline that says, "Well, if you want this ridiculous task to be anything like easy, you need to write every day, even if it's crap. Especially if it's crap." And it's that ability to write crap, because every word counts, that really makes NaNoWriMo such a liberating experience.

I know some people who participate who ask for criticism during NaNoWriMo, and that's just wrong. I mean, hey, I guess if your ego can take it, by all means, but I know that all that is going to do to someone like me is take what could be the best story ever, or at least that person's best story ever, and shoot it dead in the street. It drains all of your passion for writing it if you're told what's wrong with it before it's even begun. It's a dumb idea anyway, because what isn't wrong with it at the very beginning? Some people don't even know what their story is going to be about at that stage! I made the mistake of arranging a weekly sharing of works and write-in with one of the former types one year and it just killed my desire to write. By the time finals hit, I was almost glad to have an excuse not to keep writing. I'm keeping it under an extra lock and key this year, even from people I trust, just in case.

But really, to rewind a bit, that "let's write some crap, YEAAAAAH" feeling is an amazing self-esteem boost (and as anyone who's ever talked to me about my writing can tell you, I kind-of need it). My friend Tako*, who is giving NaNoWriMo her second go this year, said during one of our encouragement parties that NaNoWriMo lets her find everything she's written awesome, rather than doubting yourself like she would normally, and I agree 9000%.

So I'd say the number one best thing about NaNoWriMo is the way it allows you to find everything you write to be awesome. All of it.

And, as the official guidebook to NaNoWriMo says, even if you didn't win, perhaps you've written more than you ever have before! And if not even that, well, don't you still have the start of a novel in your hot little hands? Unless you don't start writing at all, there's no way not to benefit from NaNoWriMo, at least just a little.

Oh, and also there is the benefit of NaNoWriMo selling the softest shirts known to man, I'm not even joking. They are like heaven in shirt form.


The real kicker is the loss of free time, which can be hard, especially for us student writers who usually have all sorts of crap piled on us around the NaNoWriMo time of year. And also, possibly, how easy it is to talk yourself out of working on it. I mean, I already start out with a bad habit of when I have a super great idea for writing and a crap ton of homework, I will usually end up doing neither until the homework stands up for itself and says, "Um, you know I'm due right? And you will fail if you don't do me?" and NaNoWriMo has no tangible punishment or reward. As the joke went back when I first joined, the plans to give every winner their own Emu farm fell through due to financial constraints (the Office of Lights and Letters that runs NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization, after all).

I mean, yes, the feeling of winning is pretty awesome (I'm going by the time I won Script Frenzy, NaNoWriMo's script equivalent, because obviously I have no clue what it feels like to win NaNoWriMo), and having a completed work is pretty awesome, but that's a whole lot of "awesomes" and not a lot of say, "sandwiches." Unless of course you bet people that if you won, they have to buy you sandwiches. Which is a pretty good idea, actually...

How successful are they at creating a community for writers?

Very successful, I would say, and you can choose your level of involvement. You don't have to be involved at all, or you can do everything there is to do (and there's quite a bit). Most of the community centers around the forums, but NaNoWriMo doesn't just let it sit at online involvement. There are Municipal Liasons all over the place organizing everything from start parties to write-in nights to TGIO (Thank God It's Over) parties. There are also the more official, or at least fancier, ones in San Francisco (home of Office of Lights and Letters) like the Write-a-thon (which is sadly expensive as hell, because I really want to go sometime). And the community isn't just focused on adults, either. There's a Young Writer's Program that tries to bring NaNoWriMo to classrooms, with an adjustable word goal (because asking babies to write 50,000 words is a little mean).

Anything else? Any funny anecdotes you'd like to share?

Uh, I'm not that exciting. Well, I didn't get to start my first NaNo on time because I worked concession at a football game the night before and got terribly sick for about a week. My 2004 NaNo was inspired by what my mom bought me for my birthday-- this huge store display of a megablocks ship, complete with a dragon! Yes, I got children's toys for like my 17th birthday... I'm that awesome. Also, if you want to see how pretentious your NaNo can potentially be, the answer is a lot! One year I switched every gender indicative word in my novel (hes were shes, girls were boys, etc etc). Strangely enough, before this year that one was my highest word count...

You can keep up with Michelle's word count (which is now at 31,000 words!!) here. Cheer her on as she approaches that long sought after goal of 50,000 words. Also let us know if you have any NaNoWriMo stories of your own!

*Names changed to protect the awesome

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