Going the distance on writing- NaNoWriMo

Well, it’s about seven weeks before the 1st of November, and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). During the month of November, a bunch of people will attempt to write a full novel- the only requirement being that it has to be at least 50,000 words long. And by ‘a bunch’, I mean that in 2011, over a quarter million people attempted the challenge. It is the largest event in the history of creative writing, despite that it dates from 1999, when there were 21 writers.

That’s quite a lot of copy- 5 1/2 pages a day roughly. It tests limits of endurance, time management, and dealing with the frustration associated with novel writing- condensed into a very limited time-frame.

I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo last year- attempting to create a fictionalized version of my experiences at Occupy. What I quickly realized as that my biggest problem, even bigger than the organizing and consistency, was that I have no clue how to write fiction. I’ve never been able to write more than ten pages without getting angry at my lack of structure, and lack of exciting passages. There are key problems with dialogue, with showing rather than telling, with creating a compelling setting.

A long-term solution is to educate myself through creative writing curriculum, find people with similar problems and form a group, embark on a writing project over many months. This, however, doesn’t fit into two months very easily. Fiction, therefore, is an unlikely path at present.

So it looks like I will cross the void and join a ragged group, the NaNoWriMo Rebels. Given their own discussion form in a far-flung place, they are attempting to reach 50,000 words by other means. Epic poetry, biographies, essay compilations. The organization that manages the event and verifies completion has recently come out and stated it plainly- it is not cheating to write something outside of the scope. Fiction is not necessary, neither is a cohesive and related 50,000 words.

It is there that prospects are brighter. Most of what I’ve written for pleasure since my senior year of high school have been essays- often in the form of blog posts. Much of this is unrefined, but two things drive me to an essay compilation:

1. I can generate quite a lot of copy in a single day from essays. In a couple hours I can produce a thousand word blog piece- less if I write about something that doesn’t need citations. Two thousand words is the daily minimum if I have any hope.

2. Unrefined is fine. The whole point of the exercise is to write a lot, and write everyday. It’s the important step to other good habits in writing- you cannot work on your editing if you have no copy to work on.

Only about one in seven participants actually completes the task. It is a monumental undertaking and stretches the limits of a great many people- even seasoned writers, let alone people who haven’t done intensive writing in years, if at all. I do not know if I am capable of doing this.

But that’s something you don’t know until you try.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

7 thoughts on “Going the distance on writing- NaNoWriMo”

    1. If you live in an area with a large amount of college students and general intellectuals, there is a huge support structure. Not only are the forums great support and idea fodder (there’s a whole forum where you swap or offer plots, characters, and settings- sometimes in the middle of things!), but there are loads of writing events where you just sit with some like-minded people and work it out.

      Plus several bookstores in my area have goodies and a place for NaNoWriMo people to set up during the month. As I mentioned at the end, it’s become the biggest writing event in the world, and it’s very well-run.


      1. Erm, no. Live in an area where there is not much. Small town, surrounded by farms, miles from any college. One bookshop and I don’t think I have ever seen anything about NaNoWriMo there. Maybe I just haven’t been noticing. Thank you for the tip. Will try to look out for stuff.


      2. Well, the nice thing is that their internet presence is gigantic- fifty forums and a couple hundred thousand of your brethren to talk to.

        I gathered a bunch of Skype contacts last year. No matter what hour you’re writing, someone else is too. It’s a good way to overcome the isolation and the overthinking that sometimes can spell the doom of a good writing endeavor.


    1. I know 2,000/day seems possible for a week for me, but of course a month is a whole other story.

      Part of the event is using your ‘good’ days to build up a buffer.


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