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  • Jan Flynn

What If You Really Could . . .

. . . write a novel in a month? I know, the idea is nuts!


But that’s the idea behind the wildly successful National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, concept. If you’ve ever had as much as a puff of enthusiasm for writing a book — a novel, or a short story collection or a memoir — but haven’t found the staircase to reach your castle in the air, NaNo is your golden opportunity.

You can read all the history and origins of Nano on their eminently entertaining and inspiring website: suffice it to say that the whole purpose of the nonprofit entity (based in Berkeley CA; its reach is now international) is to act as a kind of online muse, offering the inspiration, encouragement and support to meet the challenge of pumping out 1,667 words a day. That’s the average daily word count needed to meet the NaNo challenge of getting to 50,000 words by midnight, November 30. Once you’ve got a project registered in the system, you can track your daily progress and watch your bar graph grow. I can’t explain why, but this alone is ridiculously motivating.

Here’s the basic idea: you have an idea for a novel (or whatever). Previous to November, you can do whatever prep you like: research, outlining, character

sketches, doodles, papering your office wall with post-its. Or you can do nothing. There are a host of NaNo forums devoted to those who are Planners (I’m pretty much in that camp) and Pantsers (those who like to just open their laptop on Day 1 and see what happens). But — you do not start actually writing until November 1. You may begin one minute past midnight after a wild Halloween party, but no sooner.

And then, you write like a bat out of Halloween hell. The challenge is to just get the words down. Once you get rocking, you can achieve your daily goal within a couple of hours, if that. You don’t have to give up the rest of your life and sequester yourself in a garret. Just fill pages. Look ahead, not back. Silence your inner critic and just go. As Grant Faulkner, NaNo’s Executive Director says, write with abandon. Be so busy and so focused just getting your story on paper — even if your story goes off the rails, even if your historical romance becomes a zombie apocalypse western — that you don’t stop to even think about whether it’s any good or not. .

Because, as anybody who has written fiction (or memoir) knows — and

especially as anyone who has wanted to write fiction but has been paralyzed by fear, and that would describe yours truly for more decades than I care to admit — that inner critic is the big bogeyman that stops far too many of us in our tracks. Not only can it keep us from finishing our stories, it prevents us from even starting. It is absolutely remorseless in its judgements and what-if’s, and it is genius at making excuses for your refusal to try. It plays the sick but seductive game of pretending it’s protecting you from failure.

So here comes NaNoWriMo to the rescue! The whole point is to free you from the threat of failure, because the only failure is not to try. All you have to do to win

NaNo is to get to 50,000 words. Nobody is going to judge your words. Nobody is going to even read them before you’re ready to share them. The website will verify your word count by asking you to upload your rough (emphasis on rough) draft into its calculator to confirm that you’ve actually hit 50K or beyond (not that I’m bragging, but on my first NaNo project last year I got to 65,000 words by the end of the month. Have I mentioned how motivating that little daily graph is?), but that’s all done electronically. There is no judgement. There is only celebration.

And there is a lot of celebration. There are parties, and write-in’s, and all manner of online cheerleading. There are electronic badges you can earn. The whole

thing is approached with an attitude of go-for-it, what-the-hell fun. All you really have to do is commit. And then, y’know, write.

Right now is a great time to start revving your engines. You’ve still got most of September and all of October to plan, dream, or otherwise incubate. Because, and my apologies to Ned and the rest of the gang at Winterfell, November is coming.

The process is simple. You set up your profile (easy: trust me, I’m a notorious Luddite, and I had no problem), give your novel a working title, and you’re in. It’s

free. They don’t share your info with anybody. They just really, truly want you to succeed. There is all manner of coaching available, a host of writing communities (or “cabins” as they’re called) that you can join — or you can form one of your own —and a bunch of forums you can access that deal with everything from preparation to how to carve out writing time to craft issues like plotting and pacing and character, to what kind of music/coffee/chocolate might help keep your butt in the chair and your fingers whapping away at the keyboard.Right now is a great time to start revving your engines. You’ve still got most of September and all of October to plan, dream, or otherwise incubate.

And what happens if you get to midnight on November 30 and you have written and verified 50,000 words?

You WIN!

What do you win?  Big, happy congratulations. Acknowledgement on the website. And far more importantly, on December 1 you get to wake up and realize that you did it. You wrote a novel. Maybe not the whole thing, or maybe not the novel you had in mind when you opened your laptop on Nov. 1, but you’ve got a really-o, truly-o draft.

And then you get to leave it alone and tackle the holiday stuff. Seriously. Don’t even look at what you’ve written for at least three weeks. When you do, you’ll find that, while there may be a lot of wonky stuff like characters that go on important errands never to return, plot lines that drift away like smoke, cringe-worthy clichés and strings of awkward adverbs — there are also some jewels in there. More than you ever would have thought. It’s 100% certain that there are more than if you had never written the thing in the first place.

And if you find those jewels and feel inspired to shine up their setting, NaNo has

fabulous revision coaching and advice, starting January. And then things get really interesting.

But you can’t revise an empty page. What have you got to lose? It’s only a month. And I promise you can do it and still keep your job, your relationship, and your dog.

Have you played with the notion of writing a book? Or is there some other creative project you’ve been wanting to embark on but something keeps getting in the way? You are so not alone! Please leave a comment: nothing here for you but encouragement and smiles.

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