That’s “National Novel Writing Month” to the uninitiated. (But, just try saying it out loud….NaNoWriMo sounds much more cool!). To those in the know, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is an international, internet based, creative writing contest that takes place annually every November. NaNo challenges writers (professional, amateur, wanna bes, and everyone in the middle) to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. As it’s website states, the contest is designed to “value enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft”. Meaning, in simpler terms, what you write doesn’t have to be good, there just needs to be a lot of it. The rules are very simple: starting at midnight, November 1st, you have until 11:59:59 on November 30th to complete your novel or your 50,000 word draft novel in progress. You can plan and outline as much as you like prior to the starting date, but what you write must be original to that time frame, i.e., no previous written work should be included. No prizes are awarded for quality, speed, or proficiency. In fact, the only way to win this thing is to finish it. And when you cross that finish line, simply upload said masterpiece to the NaNoWriMo website, where whole teams of eagerly awaiting Nano-ites will verify the word count and declare you a WINNER. Hell, you even get a certificate saying so.
Chris Baty, a struggling beginning writer himself at that time, is the founder of NaNoWriMo, and author of a book called “No Plot? No Problem!” which expounds that quantity vs quality concept and promises to give you the inside track in how to cross that finish line. Chris first launched the site in 1999, where he and approximately 20 other friends and acquaintances in the San Francisco Bay area tackled the challenge. Interest in it has grown exponentially since, reportedly even wild beyond its creator’s dream, to the point that in 201o over 200,000 people worldwide took part – to the tune of a whopping 2.8 billion words written. Now, for all it’s fans of the spirit of Nanowrimo (the fact that it encourages people to write, sort of forces them to find the discipline within to tackle that insurmountable ol’ writer’s block and both find the time and make the time to produce a finished product), the contest also has many harsh critics. The simple truth is that it often leads people into a false sense that they are now novelists, and that bidding wars for publishing rights lie just around the corner….when in fact, it’s been known to just produces a lot of shoddy, poorly written, you’d probably never try to pass it off to your 6th grade teacher and would be better off claiming your dog ate your homework kind of writing. And because you went so fast, it’s best not to even consider the spelling and grammar! Also, its important to note that, although 50K word count is indeed most impressive, it does not a novel in length make (more like a short novella or a really long short story instead). Most books are on average 70,000-100,000, so what’s downplayed is that, if one’s serious about their efforts, you’re looking at another year or more likely rewriting, revising, and expanding on your original brilliant and best-selling idea. Or, like most things in life, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to novel-writing.
So why do I seem to know so much about this seemingly insane if not downright sadomasochistic ”contest of champions”? Well that’s right, you guessed it, I entered it last November. But, for lots of reasons (stupid flu, lost flash drive, work crises, my dog ate my homework) I didn’t complete it. I did, however, write 35,000 words, which is now closer to 45,000 words or so, so not a bad start indeed. (In retrospect, my biggest problem is that my idea was a bit too ambitious in scope – I started chronicling my main character’s childhood and by 35K was still barely out of elementary….wordy much? At this rate you’d never be able to lift the damn thing by the time I’m done! And can you say SEQUEL?) At any rate, my plan is to enter the race again this coming November, with a fresh idea mapped out a bit better at the outset. You know, like a plot, and characters, and motivation, and perhaps a sense of when the whole thing might come to a satisfying END. Stuff like that.
But that’s not until November. Six whole months away even. (Actually, if you check the Nano site, it’ll tell you it’s exactly 159 days, 6 hours, 30 mins, and 49 seconds from RIGHT NOW. Hmmm…maybe it’s time to get plottin’). But that whole NaNo experience came flooding back to me in a very unexpected and unusual way. You see, this past Sunday morning, I was innocently bystanding (well, technically fuming about the desecration of the most holy former site that is Sam the Record Man….do we really NEED another condo development? But that’s a story for another day!) when suddenly the Bluenose Marathoners went zooming past in all their glory. The Bluenose Marathon is an annual 5k, 10k , half and full marathon and youth run event held annually in Halifax Nova Scotia in May. The spirit of the event is that everyone, no matter what age or fitness level, can take part and have a whole lot of fun doing it. So as I watched these brave souls on this chilly Maritime morning, and thought ‘you are sooooo training for this yourself next year mister’, I noticed something….odd. They didn’t look like runners. I mean sure, some did, some had the lean runners build and the right workout clothes from the Running Room and demonstrated really good form (whatever that is) and looked barely winded at all. But then after THAT guy blew past a group of 60 something grandmas went blowing past in their….well quite possibly their original high school gym clothes, so we’re going WAY back. And then some pretty twentysomething girls all shiny in new LuLu Lemon discussing loudly some bad blind date from the night before, but then a couple of suburban dads with beer bellies and neon headbands unfortunately wrapped way too tightly around their balding foreheads. But still the crowd clapped and screamed and cheered them all past, each and everyone one, all in different sizes and shapes, with different strengths and different abilities. But it didn’t matter what age they were or whether they were plus size or petite; didn’t matter how fast they could run or what workout clothes they had on….or how winded they were as they sprinted or how good they looked climbing that hill. It didn’t matter because these people, young and old, tall or short, athletic or out of shape-ish….they were doing it, they were getting the job DONE. And no one’s saying they’re supreme athletes by any means by the time it’s all said and done, but, damn it, they ARE marathoners, one and all. See, NaNoWriMo is kind of like that. And, in this day and age, when literacy rates are on the rise and the whole e-book revolution is posed to make that book collection taking up space on your shelf a relic of the far distant past, is having 200,000 people attempt to write a book, or a story, or a something all that bad? So you might not end up with the next Giller Prize, or the next Booker. And the only time you’ll ever see the Globe and Mail Bestseller list is….well, when you read the Globe and Mail. But you’ve accomplished something that to many is unheard of….and, at the end of the day, whether it’s high art or low camp, you’ve written something that’s your very own, and you do indeed get to call yourself “writer”.
NaNo’s and Bluenose. Better get busy, since it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me in 2012!