Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo? If you didn’t know already, well, you have four more days. Can you write 50,000 words in four days?
Founded in 1999, www.nanowrimo.org encourages everyone in the world to sign up and spend November writing a 50,000 word novel.
For the organized and business-like writer, that’s 2,500 words per day, five days a week. If you’re a workaholic and have plenty of clean underwear, you could double the word count and do it in two weeks. Or, if you’re manic and simply don’t care about eating, sleeping or peeing, it’s 10,000 words a day for five days.
Is it worth it? It certainly focuses on quantity, not quality. I wasn’t ready to jump in and write a whole novel in a month, but I was curious enough to attend a 12-hour write-in organized by a few keeners in Fredericton, starting at noon on a Saturday and ending at midnight. I thought it was a good opportunity to get a complete outline together for my second novel. An idea has been clunking around in my head for four years.
I can tell you, NaNoWriMo enthusiasts do not waste time. They bang away on their laptops, soaked in a world of words, itunes and soda pop. No talking, no socializing.
Here’s how the day went:
11:45 am Registration and Arrival: Oh, great, I’m the oldest person here. I was expecting to find a group of women who look like Margaret Atwood—frizzy-haired, older intellectuals wearing wool socks and Birkenstocks. (Believe me, I’ve seen it before.) Nope, most were under 30.
12 noon: Writing begins. Twelve hours is a long time to be without munchies. The coffee I brought in with me is getting cold. I hope my almond crunch doesn’t irritate anyone.
12:15: The sound of clacking keyboards. Five university students and me. Everyone else has an iPod. Except the girl to my right who brought her significant other along for moral support and keeps asking questions under her breath like, “what would you think if my character got hit by a bus…?” Periodically, she sends him to the mall for Starbucks.
12:30: I have an idea, but it’s evaporating when I try to come up with some specifics. On the other hand, the rug pattern in the conference room is very nice, kind of a burgundy and off-white paisley.
12:42: Get back to work! There’s ice water and glasses in the corner. Should I get up and get a drink? No, focus. For heaven’s sake. Can’t you pay attention?
12:48: A new girl shows up, she looks about ten years old. Sets up her laptop and starts clacking.
12:54: A guy with a fuzzy beard comes in, looking pretty disheveled, like he just rolled out of bed. I later find out he’s a former science student expanding his vision of the physical universe.
12:57: Another bearded guy, not quite as bushy. Who cares? Focus!
1:05: Oh. I didn’t notice the snack table in the corner. Should I get some chips? I am watching my salt intake. Get back to work. I need a beginning, middle, and end.
1:10: A girl wanders over to the left.
1:21: Another girl comes in, sets up and starts typing. She looks organized.
1:30: Tall guy with army haircut comes in and sets up at the back, carrying a bottle of lemon iced tea. (Later, I hear he’s just doing his homework. Cheater.) The girl at the next table whispers to her partner, “He’s always very quiet.”
1:39: I’m getting sleepy.
2:00: Fifteen minute break.
3:00: Still sleepy. I’ve run out of research material. No internet access. Have I gone as far as I can go? I’ve got a main character and a beginning, but now I’m stuck.
4:06: Fifteen minute break. Some ideas are starting to flow in fits.
5:00-6:00: Dinner at the food court in a nearby mall. It’s raining and miserable outside. My mind is full of plot lines and the problem of missing information.
7:30: Eleven people have quit and are gone already. If I had a car, I’d leave too. My brain is mush. Beginning outline completed, and a protagonist character sketch.
9:00: Middle and End outline completed. Can I go now?
10:00: Antagonist character sketch completed, plus a list of research questions.
11:00: I’m wiped.
11:30: Sorry, I can’t make it to midnight. (The “winner” of the evening wrote 16,000 words in approximately 12 hours.) To the five people left, I say, “Nice meeting you, good luck, I’m going to wait for my drive and snore in the lobby.”
The 12-hour write-in illustrated a few things for me: 1) There are people in the world who do not procrastinate, and I am ashamed to not be among them; 2) Making the commitment to write a challenging number of words every day is actually a pretty good idea if you want to overcome such a handicap; 3) Twelve hours is too much. My middle-aged brain was mush after about six.
The write-in was a useful exercise for a layabout like me whose idea for a second novel was just a will-o’-the-wisp needing corporeal form. It helped me establish a real outline, research requirements and character sketches so I can pull it out and finish writing…sometime. In a few months. Next November, maybe?