November 2010 was my second year of Nanowrimo madness.
For the uninitiated, Nanowrimo is short for National Novel Writing Month, or “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” as the organisers call it. The idea is simple: over the 30 days of November, Wrimos (that’s the participants) write a novel of 50,000 words. If you are one of those rare creatures who work steadily, that’s 1666 words each day, every day. If, like me, you’re more of a short-bursts-of-madness person, you’ll probably churn out no words whatsoever for the first week, and then average 2500 words for the rest of the month in a desperate attempt to cross the finish line.
You may be thinking, wait – isn’t this a form of masochism? And wouldn’t any novel you write in a month be fifty thousand words of utter bollocks?
The answer to both these questions is Yes.
And yes; any novel you write in thirty days will be utter bollocks. That’s really the point; and why the phrase is “literary abandon” and not “literary sticklerism” (it also might be because I just invented the word sticklerism). The idea of Nano is simply to get people writing. You can always improve your manuscript after November’s over, whether by thorough editing, complete plotline overhaul, or in some cases a strategically lit match. As the great Mark Twain once said “the best writing is rewriting”, and it’s damned hard to rewrite words that aren’t down on the page yet.
So Nano gives Wrimos (as Nano-participants call ourselves) permission to write utter rubbish. It encourages tangential storylines, a prolific character list, and long, involved conversations about croquet. It actively discourages editing, because editing has a nasty tendency to reduce the words on the paper.
And yet, every year Nano still nearly kills me. This is quite probably because of my style of procrastination I alluded to above, and also because my butt cheeks clench every time I spy a spelling or grammar error in my writing. I am just too much of a control freak not to go back and correct them.
But I make it through because I am not above using sneaky tricks to fulfil my word count. This year I had my protagonist sit down and write Christmas cards to all the characters, sending them heartfelt (and sometimes rather rude) seasonal greetings. Last year my protagonist surprised even me by taking a time-out and writing an open letter of protest to me, the author, about how I’d been treating her. Devious word-count ploys like these are not only allowed in Nanowrimo; they’re positively encouraged – the website has an ongoing feature where Wrimos can suggest tricks to puff up the word count.
So, why do I do this to myself, year after year, at a time when it’s just getting warm in the Southern Hemisphere, and the garden/beach is calling out for me? Well, for one thing it gives me a break from my current project. One rule of Nano is that you must start an entirely new project on November 1st. So you have no choice but to set aside the current work-in-progress. This can be an immense relief – much of the time I feel like my work-in-progress and I are only seconds away from throttling one another. And after thirty days of not even thinking about your novel, you can come back with fresh eyes, if not always a spring in your step.
The other reason is the old Monty Python “and now for something completely different” moment. If you’re committing only thirty days to a novel, you may just be prepared to try something different. Something craaaazy... This year, for example, I wrote in a completely new genre, for me. I now have the beginning of a satirical fantasy novel called Peering up the Trouser Leg of Giants. Although it’s still not quite at the first draft stage, I am delighted with how it’s going. If it continues to shape up well, I plan on passing the finished product on to my Lovely Agent for submission to publishers. Exciting stuff!
In conclusion, dear reader: Nanowrimo=good. Spare time=bad.
If you haven’t already, I fully recommend giving Nano a try next November.
with greetings from the landau,
with greetings from the landau,