The month of November is a special time for professional and aspiring authors alike, as it is also the month in which NaNoWriMo takes place.
NaNo is its own special brand of organized insanity. Ostensibly, the goal is for each participant to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. In reality, it is a tool that helps writers silence their inner critics and just write.
It is hard to explain why NaNo elicits such a manic response to the non-writers out there. There really is no prize for winning. You sacrifice sleep, meals, friends, family, and hygiene in your dedication to the challenge. Even those nearest and dearest to you will question your sanity by the time the month is up. YOU will question your sanity before the month is up.
So what is the draw, then? There must be one, since thousands of people from around the world enter and participate each year.
What seduces the writer into devoting themselves to climbing the NaNo mountain is simply this – you will write your novel. Instead of allowing your family to interrupt your writing time, you incoherently mutter “NaNo” and throw your children a box of Poptarts to quiet them. Instead of reflecting on how your writing is crap, your plot is crap, and you will never get published, you are totally focused on upping your word count.
If you win – and any truly passionate writer will want this badly – you find yourself on December 1st at least 50,000 words into an actual, honest-to-goodness novel. It won’t be finished by any stretch of the imagination, of course, but it is something like finding that someone has done the work for you. It’s a pleasant surprise.
I know this doesn’t make sense, but I equate NaNo to having a newborn baby. You live in an altered reality during that time, so when the smoke clears and you rejoin the human race, the memories of the experience take on a dreamlike quality.
I did NaNo for the first time last year. When I finished, I set the novel aside for over half a year because I was scared to look at the mess I had created. When I did finally review it, however, I was stunned. I actually liked it. Color me shocked. I still didn’t intend to pursue publication because of the nature of the writing itself, but it was something I could actually be proud of.
So this year, I’m at it again. I have 3 days and 10,000 words left. My children bring me caffeine periodically or just wave at me from the doorway. My husband avoids me like the plague after having interrupted my process at the wrong moment once too many times. They treat me like a rather disturbing exhibit at the zoo, but they do so with love and acceptance. They know I’ll come back to my senses on December 1st.
Until then, I am enjoying the complete lack of impulse control that comes with total and utter exhaustion. My plot has gone absolutely nowhere I had anticipated. To say we’ve moved away from the outline is laughably understating the case. The characters have taken over. It’s a mutiny. I’m thoroughly enjoying every moment of it, too.
If I had not done NaNo, I would never have had the courage to throw in these weird little ideas or listen to the offbeat nudges from my imagination. It’s fascinating to stop typing and see something entirely unexpected on the page in front of you. You wrote it – you know you did – but it almost seems to have created itself.
For the geekier writers, this is something we can only label, “So cool!” - I’m sure the more intellectual of us would say that it typified a fascinating phenomenon that is a well-documented facet of the creative process.
Really, it’s just super-freaking-cool.
I should probably mention that the lack of impulse control does eek into other areas of one’s life. I have tweeted some things I’m not proud of (although they were hilariously witty). I may have made some comments out loud that I would normally restrict to inner monologue. If you chose to participate in NaNoWriMo next November, you may want to surrender your cell phone to a responsible adult for the duration. Just a suggestion!