In my email box this week, along with 27 notices that I had won the lottery in various countries in Europe for a cool $2.5 million (huzzah) and 52 ads for enlarging my member (um, okay), I got a letter from an old friend, Chris Baty.
Some will recognize the name. If you have ever separated yourself from friends, family and reality for the month of November, if you ever dedicated yourself to no sleep and spasm-inducing amounts of caffeine, if you ever toyed with the idea of living in your car with your laptop plugged into the cigarette lighter to get a little quiet time then you know who Chris is. He’s the pied piper of National Novel Writing Month, the clarion voice in the desert (well, San Francisco actually) calling more than 100,000 writers to their destinies, computers and coffee makers to pour their jittery alter egos into a 50,000-word novel produced in one month.
National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo to the obviously unbalanced insiders, is the gauntlet thrown down to all who would call themselves novelists, writers or word-whores. Come on, poseurs, says Chris, show us what you got. It’s easy, from the outside, to sneer at such a paltry amount, I mean, real writers write weighty fare like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at 565,000 words. That’s a real book-length manuscript. Right? Yeah, right. 50,000 words is about 200 printed pages and a short novel to say the least, but it’s also a great start on your own Atlas Shrugged or It or A Suitable Boy. And the beauty of Nanowrimo is that if you finish 50,000 words before the end of the contest, you can just keep going and going and going until midnight on November 30th.
Since blinding speed is the characteristic most favored in this contest, painstakingly crafting elaborate, subtle or elegant plots is just plain silly. Nanowrimo is all about the messy, ugly, gross, misanthropic first drafts that may eventually become real manuscripts after enough love and revision. Or not. Think the Sistine Chapel done by toddlers with finger paints. It’s about just puking out a story onto the computer screen and not worrying that your adoring public or future public will think less of you for writing such crap. The goal is 50,000 words in somewhat coherent sentences that tell a somewhat coherent story, how you get there is your business. In fact, Chris’s answer to the problems and paranoia associated with plotting stories is his book No Plot, No Problem.
One of my favorite aspects of Nanowrimo, besides the camaraderie, the competition with other regions and that nasty bitch, Time, the insanity and mainlining pure adrenalin is the sister competition to Nanowrimo for students. The Nanowrimo Young Writers Program encourages grade school and high school students to join in the craziness by the classroomful. In the process, they learn how ugly a first draft can be, and how that’s alright. They also learn about competing with a deadline and working on a team toward a common goal. A bunch of kids whose first contact with writing is through the Young Writers Program turn around the next year and join the rest of us in pursuit of a novel in 30 days.
Even though I didn’t make it to 50,000 last year, I’m game of another go this year. I got kids, house, husband and a full ticket going at ASU but who cares. I'll give up sleeping. Chris, you won’t have to send your goons out to drag me back kicking and screaming, I already got my feet in the starting blocks.
So if you’re already horribly busy but plagued with stories floating around in your head, you must nano. If you always wondered how people came to wander through your office, bleary-eyed, mumbling about MCs and theme, you must nano. And if you ever wanted to prove to the world that you’re one crazy SOB, you must nano. Come, we’ll nano together.
Check out Chris’s brainchild that grew into a 40-foot gorilla in a pink tutu at www.nanowrimo.org