This morning, I am experiencing NaNoWriMo envy. For those of you who have been living under a rock, or who have recently returned from the space station, or who check their Facebook pages infrequently, this pronunciation-defying, cryptic term refers to November, now officially National Novel Writing Month. This is not, as one might think, a month like all the others dedicated to recognition of some particular group or cause, such as Black History Month (February), or Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), or April--which does yeoman's duty as Alcohol Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Poetry Month, Keep America Beautiful Month, Historic Preservation Month, Older Americans Month, Keep America Beautiful Month/Great American Cleanup, National Osteoporosis Prevention Month, American Rivers Month, and Vision Research Month.
No, National Novel Writing Month is not a time for appreciating the novelists among us, or their creations. It is, rather, the invention of Chris Baty, a California writer who, in 1999, got the idea to challenge himself and a group of his writer and non-writer friends to produce a 50,000 word novel in a month. The first time out, the month was July, and six of the twenty-one brave souls who started out on this unlikely mission made it across the 50,000 word finish line. In 2000, the month was switched to November, "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather," and the undertaking got its own website, and 140 would-be novelists. Over the next decade, attention from bloggers and mainstream media contributed to the geometric growth of the project; last year, more than 30,000 of the 165,000+ participants "won"--i.e., finished.
It may be just the part of the world that I hang out in, but I'm hearing a lot about this enterprise, which has become an honest-to-God phenomenon. If you check in on your Facebook friends, I'm willing to bet you know somebody who has been swallowed up in this year's NaNoWriMo.
In 2004, Baty drafted his No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, along with his own novel, during the month-long writing marathon. Had I picked up this handy little manual a couple of weeks earlier, I might have decided to jump in with both feet and attempt this adventure myself. Until I waded into Baty's book, I was under the misapprehension that I would need to devote a full month of days. Not so. In fact, Baty cautions against taking a month out of one's normal life, taking a work leave, going to a desert island, etc. NaNoWriMo is about squeezing the writing into whatever little nooks and crannies we can find in our everyday routines. And it's all about lowering our standards, which has become something of a mantra for me.
Baty touts the values of "exuberant imperfection," and the indispensability of his "secret weapon," the "superpowered, diabolical device that will transform you into a bastion of literary accomplishment,"--the deadline. "Deadlines," Baty tells us, "are the dynamos of the modern age."
It seems he's definitely on to something. And while I sit here wishing I were part of the NaNoWriMo Class of 2010, I can at least ready myself for next year, or for that month between now and then when I decide to go solo on a "noveling month" of my own. In the meantime, I intend to more seriously explore the use of deadlines, and to deepen my commitment to "exuberant imperfection." Oh, and to familiarize myself further with Baty's recommended strategy of frequent treats.