Quantitas super Qualitas. This was our banner, my fellow, seven team members and I, as we undertook the challenge that is NaNoWriMo. It is the brainchild of Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, begun in 1999 when slightly silly, big ideas were de rigueur. The idea is a writer signs up on the official web site and commits to making the attempt to achieve 50,000 words in 30 days, or an average of 1,667 words per day. In 2010 (the stats aren’t ready yet for 2011) there were over 200,000 participants from every continent and over 30,000 people crossed the 50k line. This year WriMo writers chocked up 3,073,736,657 words.
What on earth does one gain by forcing out this many words in such a short time? A sentient person might be tempted to ask. I, too, was cynical and scoffed at the notion of writing a novel in a month, a task that promised a draft so rough as to be at best nothing more than indiscriminate word churning and at worst a product seemingly generated by a trained monkey.
But I took the challenge. And, as it turned out, I not only met the word count—I came in just shy of 55,000 words (five of our original team broke the ribbon)—but I learned a few things along the way:
- Externally imposed deadlines invigorate me.
- Accountability helps (we recorded our stats and reported back to the group on a regular basis).
- Fear of Failure has its greatest motivating effect when you are being watched. Once you announce your intention to take the challenge, people are constantly reminding you by asking how far you’ve gotten.
- Slippage can be a hindrance. By slippage I mean the tendency to read over many pages of previously written material in an effort to avoid the day’s writing. With NaNoWriMo, there is no time to indulge in such behaviors—other than reading a couple of paragraphs to refresh my memory, I had to spend my time writing, not reading.
- Freedom from my usual careful/cautious/each-word-is-precious mode allowed me to discover greater depth in my characters and wander widely enough in my scenes to discover new possibilities.
- Not having the leisure to edit triggered my subconscious organizational skills; hence I found orderliness in my rough draft that I wouldn’t have expected.
- It is fun to win. Even if it was just a printed out certificate that I filled in myself plus the congratulations of my group.
- Writers are a solitary lot. Having a gaggle of like-minded folks to commiserate and celebrate with was cool.
- If you call what you are working on a LEVON (novel backwards of course) it seems less intimidating.
It is December, the darkest month here in the Northwest, but here I am, not only a winner but also a writer with about 180 pages of material to sort through and form into something resembling a rough draft of a novel (or maybe it will be a novella, or maybe I’ll find one, great short story amongst the word-confetti). If it cannot be slapped into shape, at least it will have been great practice, something I can always use a bit more of.