I love National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated for years. They asked me to write some peptalks a few years ago. You can find them here:
In essence, NaNoWriMo is trying to hack out fifty thousand words in one month’s time. It’s more an exercise in endurance than it is in craft—the idea is to get out fifty thousand words of a story with no undue thought for quality or cohesion. The goal is to produce fifty thousand words, not to produce fifty thousand WELL WRITTEN words. (Of course, no one is going to complain if you happen to do a good job with your fifty thousand, as well as simply get them on the page.)
I think, however, that there is something more to this entire experience than the simple wordcount goal. I’ve been very supportive of NaNoWriMo amongst my friends, and have even tried to recruit those I know with some small writing aspirations. I think there’s a secret here that, perhaps, not even those who participate fully understand. That secret? The lure of a writer’s life.
There’s something—. . .different about being a writer. Something happens to you, something inside you changes, when you get deeply involved in a story. It’s kind of like the high that runners mention when they have been exerting themselves for a long period of time—except, it lasts longer, and it might even be more overpowering. When a writer hits this stage, his or her story begins to demand everything. Moments the writer spends awake start to be spent dreaming of new plots and ideas. Moments spent asleep start to be spent working out new ideas or solving problems. The unconscious begins to get consumed with the storyteller’s vision.
People ask me how many hours a day I write. They don’t understand.
It’s not a matter of how many ‘hours’ I write. I am always writing. When I’m at the gym, I’m writing. When I’m in class, I’m writing. When I’m on an airplane, I’m writing. Perhaps there’s a quantifiable amount of time I actually sit in the chair typing, but in many ways, this is some of the LEAST productive writing I do.
NaNoWriMo isn’t about finishing a novel. In my mind, it’s about teaching someone to think like a writer. It’s about giving them a chance to feel what it is like to be consumed by a story, and to let that person decide if they really want this force in their lives. Writers have very high divorce rates, and very high alcoholism rates, for a reason. Without care, the beautiful beast of writing can do some very dangerous things to a person’s life.
So, in a way, I’m kind of like a crack dealer. I cajole, I suggest, and I imply—trying to get people to give this thing a chance. Because, there’s a very beautiful side to the writer’s life as well. It is the joy of completion, the amazing wonder that comes from having taken nothing and organized SOMETHING out of it. A story—characters, plots, ideas, and visions. Things that others can now experience.
It is the best way, in my opinion, to let another person know what it is like to be you.