If you’ve never heard of it before, National Novel Writing Month—also known as NaNoWriMo—sounds like utter insanity. Produce 50,000 words in the month of November? Well, the banner on their website does bill the undertaking as a “thirty days and nights of literary abandon.”
And founder Chris Baty admits in his 2004 book No Plot? No Problem! that writing a novel in a month can seem like a “dumb idea.” Yet hundreds of thousands of people are signing up for this craziness every year. Something seems to be working.
Why do it in the first place? Says Baty: “If there’s one thing successful novelists agree on, it’s this: The single best thing you can do to improve your writing is to write. Copiously.” There is a secret, he claims, to accomplishing this: the deadline. For those of us who mean to write and never quite get around to it, being “forced” to produce sheer quantity really does matter. Pushing ourselves to write when we think we can’t requires that we blast through a lot of the static in our heads and lives. Those who stick with it to the end discover ways to focus and press on. The end result inevitably surprises. Most of us already know this, or at least part of us does. NaNoWriMo simply discovered a way to shine a mega-watt high beam on the process. And provides a turbo charged kick in the pants to get with it, already.
In fact the deadline and commitment work so well other creatives, inspired by the site’s success, have applied them to genres other than novels. Manga artists sign up. Poets commit to writing everyday. Two years ago on this blog Susan Brown shared her discovery of journaling guru Dawn DeVries Sokol’s project NaNoJouMo or “National Nonstop Journaling Month.” Sokol says she’s doing it again this year, providing a prompt everyday.
Intrigued? Check out one of these sites. What the online supports provide are inspiration, focus, and virtual companions on the outrageous journey. (At NaNoWriMo there are even regional meetups, if you really want to find others in your locale who are likewise committed to literary abandon.) There are as many different ways to approach this challenge as there are folks who take it up. Last year when a fellow writer talked me into committing to at least writing everyday through the month of November something shifted in my writing, and my life’s priorities.
This year I plan on using the site to access the site’s “Pep Talk Archive.” Within it I’ve found a treasure of a page by Linda Barry, one of my favorite cartoonists. She says: “Dear Writer, Reconsider your hand. Reconsider writing by hand. There is a kind of story that comes from hand. Writing which is different from a tapping-on-a-keyboard-kind-of-story.”
Barry says writing this way demands we engage not only our imagination, which is pure thought, and not the planning part of our minds. Instead, she says, writing by hand requires we use our physical bodies as we move pen across paper and couples that with our accessing a capacity that is neither all the way inside us or all the way outside of us—it’s a “between” place where stories “happen” as part of the “image world.”
Of course I’m fortunate enough to practice my crafting in the midst of this group, KaBooM. I’ve found myself looking back to Mary’s May 16th post on “The Power of the Pen,” and was tickled silly to be reminded that the previous post here was Normandi’s on “Swift Words”!
Here’s to your finding a path to the swift words that flow from your pen in the upcoming weeks.