NaNoWriMo

© 2007 by Elizabeth Weaver

  • Do pregnant whales get morning sickness?
  • How do you protect yourself from writing scams?
  • Androgynous hermaphrodite pronoun?
  • Useful websites for writers?

These are some of the thousands of questions asked and answered by fellow writers on NaNoWriMo forums. While NaNoWriMo may sound like a tiny rhinoceros, it’s actually short for National Novel Writing Month, which happens each November through www.nanowrimo.org.

I’m all over the place as a writer: poetry, short stories, children’s fantasy and picture books, essays, plays, novels—several novels, each a decade in the works. And since poetry is my foundation as a writer, I choose each word and comma with a surgeon’s precision, a meticulous and exceedingly slow process. While ideas strike with the frequency of summer lightning in the Canadian Rockies, their manifestation is more like tracking the exact moments and influences that shifted the genetic code from protozoa to bald eagles.

However, NaNoWriMo offers an opportunity to approach writing like a drunk skunk weaving its way through manzanita and spraying at every twig snap. The goal in joining NaNoWriMo is to produce at least 50,000 words in November, an average of six and a half pages each day. There’s no cost. Just log in and participate in whatever way feeds you as a writer.

I learned about it four days before its start and viewed this as an opportunity to complete the second half of the novel I’d been working on for the past year. However, one of the rules is to begin a new piece of writing. At first I reasoned that new is new; however, the website explains that writers are too attached to plots and characters already in process for this focused period to do its magic. While the site encourages writers to outline in advance, the first word of one’s novel does not touch paper until November 1. It made sense and, of course, lightning struck immediately so on the first of November I began writing a novel that I hadn’t even imagined four days earlier.

NaNoWriMo’s site provides fantastic forums that enable writers to network so they can ask others for specific information regarding obscure historical periods or grammatical rules, or play games to relax from the task of generating 1,700 words a day, or discuss the balancing act of jobs and children during this highly productive month. Even though the organizers refer to how tiring this process is, I was undaunted. I’m a writer. I write almost every day and have since I was twelve so I was in it to see what neural connections would shift and develop in a month of releasing my editorial eye in favor of the fun of zipping down the ski slope of who-the-hell-knows-what-I’m-writing-as-long-as-it-totals-at-least-fifty-thousand-words!

Of course I made my 50,000, but it was exhausting, and also exhilarating, demanding, and one of the best things I could have done. It enabled me to find ways to generate work more quickly. More importantly, I found that remaining focused on one project deepened my writing. For example, my character is obsessed with bones so I read everything I could on bones and observed bone connections everywhere—it didn’t hurt that Halloween and Day of the Dead were at the beginning of NaNoWriMo—and metaphors arose that normally wouldn’t have because I was so immersed in osteology. I discovered the benefit of having a unifying theme/obsession in a novel-length work and of really digging in at the beginning of that first draft.

NaNoWriMo brings together an international network of people focused on producing the first 175 pages of a new novel. It enables participants to connect with and support one another, cheer each other on, share excerpts if we choose, or simply write in our normal isolation, perhaps peeking into forums, and finally getting credit for those first 50,000 words that often remain uncelebrated at this stage. NaNoWriMo even enables writers to meet and continue as groups beyond November, by interest or location. It’s a lot like Left Coast Writers, without Izzy’s or those great Salons.

If this weren’t enough, participants receive a signature halo if they donate at least twenty dollars, tax deductible, to defray the cost of running the NaNoWriMo site. Half the money donated beyond 2006 costs will build children’s libraries in Vietnam.

And if novels aren’t your thing, or if, like me, you work in multiple genres, you may want to consider signing up for Script Frenzy, which will launch June 2007. Same organizers, new genre. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, no matter what, just keep writing!

Elizabeth Weaver will read an excerpt from “bonegirl,” her NaNoWriMo manuscript, at the LCW reading series at the Ferry Building on September 10, 2007. Please come and hear what 1,700 words a day inspired. She’ll also be reading poetry April 9 for this same series in celebration of National Poetry Month.

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