NaNoWriMo: Ten Years of Literary Abandon

Geek Culture

It’s nearly that time of the year – November.  November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I’ll be joining the craziness and chaos of writing a novel in thirty days along with thousands and thousands of people world-wide.

It was ten years ago that a small group of 21 people in San Fransisco came up with the idea.  It remained a kind-of West Coast thing for several years but in the last few has exploded to an international event with over 100,000 people participating in NaNoWriMo last year. (There are already more than 70,000 signed up for 2008).

The concept is easy – starting midnight November 1st through 11:59pm on November 30th, you write a 50,000 word novel.  Thirty days. Fifty-thousand words…or 1,667 words per day.  This will be my third year participating, and I can’t wait.  I was able to eek out a win last year even going on vacation for a week.  In the NaNoWriMo world, a “win” is getting 50,000 words cranked out before the end of the month.

The concept is also simple – get words on paper (or saved in electronic format).  You are focused on the quantity of words, not the quality.  Part of the theory of using an absurd amount of time and a large number of words is that it forces the internal editor to take a back-seat, and that the primary barrier to writing a novel is getting words down in a format that can be edited…

As the NaNoWriMo about page details it:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As I wrote last year – you have permission to fail.

While the concept is easy and simple – the application is less so. 

  • I don’t quit my day-job. 
  • I don’t quit my night-job (husband, dad, chauffeur to children’s activities, writing for GeekDad).
  • I fit the writing in whenever and wherever I can – I stay up late some evenings or get up early to pound out a few hundred words.

Throughout November the folks at NaNoWriMo headquarters send out pep-talk email messages and produce regular podcasts.  The forums are also both a great place for encouragement, ideas (for things like character ideas, plot ideas, and answers to the questions you have to make your scene more realistic) as well as a great place to totally waste time while procrastinating or fighting writer’s block.

So, I know a couple of GeekDad readers are fellow participants in NaNoWriMo. If there are more, drop me a quick email with your NaNoWriMo name and I’ll add you as a writing buddy. 

If you aren’t already signed up, what the heck are you waiting for?  The craziness, the chaos, the frustration, and most importantly the FUN make for an unforgettable month. 

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