Hats off to Chris Baty, founder of the wildly successful National Novel Writing Month! Thanks to Baty and his cohorts, November will never be the same for compulsive writers and would-be novelists. Baty started NaNoWriMo in California with 21 participants, back in 1999. Sixteen years later, billions and billions (OK, thousands and thousands) of writers all around the globe are answering the challenge to write the first draft of a new novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. (Click here to find out more about the rules.)
Why would anyone want to commit to such an outrageous endeavor? Why subject yourself to the torture of hammering out 1,667 words a day for 30 days?
It’s a little like going to a gym to work out. It helps some writers to sweat alongside other writers — to experience group pain and the accompanying euphoria in order to get in shape.
I was a teenage writer, long before NaNoWriMo was invented. One of my eighth grade friends was also a writer; we used to read each others’ stories, scrawled on lined, three-ring notebook paper, fastened together by dog-earring the corners, tearing a little notch and folding it down. In high school I joined the literary club where we wrote and published Sunburst, an emotive, somewhat histrionic collection of teenage poems and stories typed, mimeographed, and bound with three staples. As a young professional nurse I started a writers roundtable for other nurses at the hospital where I worked. We were low tech back then, long before the internet or Chris Baty existed. Today’s young writers have technology on their side but they still need self-discipline and the drive to do it. NaNoWriMo helps through the herd effect. You can even join NaNoWriMo groups on Facebook if you need that kind of reinforcement.
Baty’s nonprofit organization even has a Young Writers Program geared to students and educators.
Professional writers need encouragement too. Some of us don’t allow enough time for our work. Or we avoid it. Like giving birth, it is an uncomfortable, messy, too-slow process. Sometimes we’re afraid of the work, afraid of the pain, afraid of what we’re bringing forth into this world! It helps to make a commitment — a pledge — to write a certain number of words a day. Which is also terrifying because as any writer knows, much of what you write is crap. But you have to believe that in that growing garbage heap of words there is something important — something worth preserving.
I did it once. NaNoWriMo. In 2007 I made the pledge to write a 50,000 novel during the month of November. At the time I was on the road doing some talks at high schools and libraries about Star-Crossed — my first published novel that had been six years in the making. I signed up in my hotel room and began my story about three runaway teens who meet up on the road, each on their own mission, and go on a hunt for a musician named Redfeather, believed to be Ramie’s estranged father. The first draft of Looking for Redfeather, my 2007 NaNoWriMo project of 55,000 words, was uploaded on the last day of November and I received my NaNo badge.
It took six more years to revise and edit my literary YA road trip which I eventually published under my Fiction House imprint. Looking for Redfeather was a Foreword Reviews IndieFab finalist for YA Book of the Year, 2013, and a Literary Fiction Book Review Spring Spotlight award-winner in 2015. It was one of the most fun books I’ve written, possibly because I wrote the first draft in 30 days.
This year I’ve pledged to finish my current novel-in-progress during National Novel Writing Month. This disqualifies me from officially entering the challenge, but it doesn’t mean I can’t draft off the energy of all those young writers bursting out of the gate today, November 1, writing the beginnings of their brand new novels. Ready, Set, GO! Write your hearts out, kids; I’m right behind you.
That’s my NaNoWriMo story — what’s yours?