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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Novel Writing Month!

It’s that time of year again: pumpkin spice, Halloween costumes, and hanging out with friends in the fall weather. That last one might be difficult though, if you’re considering the other thing it’s time for: National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo means you will become a temporary hermit. In a good way.). Sure, it’s not until November, and we’ve got a good week or so, but if you want to make it all the way through November, you’d better start considering what your 50,000 words are going to be about, and how you’re going to manage to fit in enough time to write coherently for 30 days straight. When you think about it, it doesn’t sound like such an enormous undertaking. Writing every day. Meeting a word count. But if you’re anything like I was last year, you think plotting your story is a waste of time because, hey, it will just come to you as you go, and by the time you hit day 6 you realize that you’ve been ‘writing’ for hours (read: opening the document, thinking you need to research some stuff, and then spending the next three hours reading about geoducks and murder ballads), but your story hasn’t progressed—in word count or in action. And then you have the horrible realization that there are still 24 days to go and that if you can’t continue writing now, you will suffer the shame of having failed at your NaNo escapade after annoyingly trying to con all of your friends (and some strangers) into being your NaNoWriMo buddy by telling them how easy it will be.

And we just can’t have that.

So this year, plan on doing NaNoWriMo, and plan on winning. Continue your recruiting, but go out there with some weapons, like the official site itself (, where you can register and track your progress against your friends’ and your region’s progress against any other part of the world. Check out local events, and read some of the pep talks by authors of all genres, like Maureen Johnson, Neil Gaiman, and Sara Gruen. Start thinking about your story, and prepare for a month of the most rewarding self-torture you’ll ever experience.

Who: You and some friends (hopefully)
What: National Novel Writing Month – 50,000 words by midnight, Nov. 30
Where: At your desk, in a closet, in a bouncy house castle, wherever
When: November (Yes, all of it.)
Why: Why not?
How: However you want (I work best with a full pot of coffee and a Costco-size bag of Swedish Fish and nonstop Christmas music. Maybe you work best in striped toe socks, snacking on Bugles in a soundproof band practice room. No one’s judging.)

I’ll be posting regularly on my NaNoWriMo experience, and I hope you’ll join me, because nobody likes to write alone. (A completely false statement. Still. We’ll be interacting online. Come on!)


Shae said...

I've always wondered how one balances the demands of NaNoWriMo with... real life. I mean, I've always wanted to, but I'm a full-time student with papers and tests ad volunteer hours and job searches. How does it all fit?

Steph Keep said...

This is a very real complaint, Shae. After begging my sister to join me in writing next month (she’s a professional photographer, has two sons, and is a supportive coach’s wife), I realized that this might not be the challenge for everyone. Some people just don’t have the luxury of spending a few hours immersed in writing. I’ve only done this challenge once before and, after graduating, I’ve probably got a LOT more time than you if you’re dealing with classes, volunteering, and, you know, living your life. The best I can say is that if you want to do this, it’s all about SCHEDULING. Which sounds horrible, for the creative process, but is a huge part of getting anything done and still having a life. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this (, and how we all assume successful writers ARE geniuses, but she introduces the idea of HAVING a genius, as some sort of oddball sidekick you can blame for not showing up when you’re stuck at your computer, ready to go, but lacking inspiration. If you show up, then you’ve got to embrace the next thing (I know I’m front-porch snowing you with advice like an old woman from a gothic novel, but stick with me), which is that what you (and I) produce next month is by NO means going to be anywhere near final draft stage. Susan Blau and Kathryn Burak (Writing in the Works) tell us that: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. . . . If one of the characters wants to say “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it.”

So all that advice I just spilled means that I think (and these are just my self-expectations) this whole thing is about: 1. Showing up, 2. Allowing yourself the freedom to spill EVERYTHING onto the paper, and 3. Putting in your word count, and leaving it alone until next time. And once November is over, you can commit your time to revising, or, in some cases, just rereading what you’ve written and wondering what the hell was wrong with you that day.

Are you going to do it? (*crosses fingers*) How can I convince you?

Steph Keep said...

And since I can't publish a link that long–sorry!–try going to and searching for Elizabeth Gilbert. Even if you didn't like Eat, Pray, Love, her talk is worth watching.