november = novels?

November is National Novel Writing Month. But what does that mean?

‘So,’ the geek with the plaid scarf and retro glasses said to me, as he waited for his elevator.  ‘Have you ever done the whole National Novel Writing Month thing?’

Geeks confound me.  They somehow describe activities, or movies, or anything, and make them sound as if only real nerd-geeks—the kind with pocket-protectors, thin ties, and 80s glasses—would be caught dead doing them.  And at the same time they make those same activities seem like some avant-garde, ultra-exclusive society only the crème de la guik can get into.

‘No,’ I said.  ‘I haven’t.’

He had.

‘I so did it last year,’ said the geek.  ‘A lot of people are so, like, into it.  Like, I’m so doing it this year.’

He gave me one of those looks—a severe inquisition that implies, ‘You so don’t have what it takes to be a real geek, do you?  Bet you, like, never even played Final Fantasy VI.’

I decided I disliked this geek—and the National Novel Writing Month?  How gauche.  An affront to all real writers everywhere.

‘No,’ I said, with the sugary politeness that implies, ‘I dislike you and you are affronting all real writers everywhere.’  ‘No, I haven’t heard of it.’

The elevator rang its arrival.  The geek ascended to distant levels of awesomeness that I, poor freelancer, could only dream about.

I promptly forgot the encounter.

Until I happened upon Ryan Harvey’s blog at about National Novel Writing Month.

How gauche, I thought.  I so should look into this.

The website didn’t impress me.  But then, I went through a phase where I looked at websites for a living.  It takes a lot to impress me.  I persevered.

The good people at NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately slurred, are on a multi-man crusade to encourage people to write.  As Harvey deftly explains, they offer aspiring writers a deadline and an online commiseration group.  It’s a sort of literary marathon.  The idea, they say, is to write 50k words—not, necessarily, 50k good words.  Output, not literature, is tantamount.

Aha, said my inner snide and cynical critic, so that’s why some participants in NaNoWriMo have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers.

Wait, said my inner marketer.  Some participants in NaNoWriMo have gone on to be New York Times Bestsellers?

Apparently it’s true.  Either they’ve gone on to improve on their November word vomit, or they ignored the ‘quantity, not quality’ mandate of the project.  Or both.

By this time, I admit to being genuinely interested.  I’m perched nicely on a manuscript of about 20k words, the third morph of my first novel, and I’ve been lecturing my reflection regularly about my need to complete it by the end of the year.  Perhaps this would be my opportunity.

Ah, sorry.  Existing manuscripts aren’t allowed.  You have to start from scratch, the moderators explain.  If you’re working with established material, you probably care about your characters too much already, and you’ll be tempted to edit instead of write.


I am pretty much attached to my characters.  20k words will do that.  And for some reason, I’d always thought editing was part of the writing process.

In other words, if I’m writing tripe, and I know I’m writing tripe, I can’t write.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  I guess I need to maintain the illusion of literary greatness to keep me going.

That’s me out of this year’s NaNoWriMo.  I’ll let my geek friend ride his elevator alone with everyone else.

But I might see if I can get 50k done in 30 days—surely there’s no law against that?  That’s not even 2k words a day.  And if I’m not hitting 2k words a day, I’m not having a very good day.

So, despite my other projects, I think I’ll try it.  Maybe not in the elevator, but hey, there’s the escalator.   I’ll be posting periodic updates on my progress here—success, failure, forgetfulness.  Welcome to distance writing.

Oh joy, say critic and marketer together—but with different inflections.

What, exactly, would you like me to relate about my mad, unauthorized writing month?  Please comment with your suggestions, questions, and protestations.  I really will pay attention.

3 thoughts on “november = novels?

  1. Heh.

    I’ve never tried it–November always seems to be a busy month for me–but it’s really not a bad idea. Because one of the things I urge my Freshmen Comp students to do is to barrel through their first draft before they give a thought to editing, ignoring spelling, sentence structure, and grammar until later. It’s far easier to edit words that are already on a page–even lousy words–than words where half of them have yet to be written, and when we edit while we’re still first-drafting (which pretty much everyone has the tendency to do), we slow ourselves down. A lousy draft is a framework to work within, and easy to improve. So an initial focus on “quantity not quality” isn’t a bad idea, as long as that gets reversed for the second draft.

    I was thinking of psuedo-trying it this November. A deadline and a goal can’t be a bad thing, though I doubt I’ll get anywhere close. I may give up blogging for a month and devote all the time I normally spend constructing blogs to my fiction endeavors. And, like, you, I’ll be using something that I’ve already been working on. (Because really, I care more about getting this story finished than I do about the purity of NaNoWriMo.)

    For your updates, you should give your current word count, any frustrations or obstacles you encounter, what you think is working or not working about the process, and perhaps a random sample sentence.

  2. Now if only someone would start a NaMusComMo….

    As an editor I’m dubious at best at the thought of writers churning out words in volume regardless of quality– don’t they do enough of that already?– but as a writer (and composer) I know the only effective way to get something out of me is to put it on a strict deadline. If I wasn’t already too embroiled in actual (paying) projects to think about seriously working on my own (19k, 4th draft) work in progress, I’d probably give it a shot.

    As the saying goes, the only thing wasted in first drafts is the paper– and now that everything’s done on computer, we don’t even have to worry about the threat to the rainforests.

  3. Pingback: November « The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond

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