I would like to take a moment now and encourage everybody who’s been writing a novel, or even thinking about writing a novel, to consider taking this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.
Here are the rules, regulations, and rewards:
1. Write a draft of a novel, at least 50,000 words long, during the month of November.
2. You may begin at midnight, November 1st, local time.
3. You must finish before midnight, December 1st, local time. (They have you register as writing from a specific area, so they know when your time is up, wherever you live).
4. If you register officially, you will get many, many emails asking for donations (because nothing good is really free, right?), but also cool pep talks from successful writers to help you along your way.
5. You must start a new project with the contest. (No building on something you’ve already written allowed).
6. You may plan out your writing as much as you want ahead of time, as long as you don’t write down anything you’re actually going to use in the draft.
7. If you reach 50 thousand words by midnight on the last day, but your draft isn’t finished, you are still a “winner.”
8. If you win, they send you a certificate that you can print out, or not, but of course, your accomplishment itself is the greatest reward by far.
You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned this challenge sooner, on a writing blog like this. This is because, unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. However, lest you accuse me of not having the guts to practice what I preach here, let me just say that I did participate last year, and technically, I won, by producing 50,004 new words worth of complete garbage that I don’t even allow myself to look at anymore. Of course, the NaNoWriMo people could argue that I didn’t really win, because I had actually written parts of that story already, but I didn’t put those parts in the same document. I just wrote a new 50,000 word draft with deliberate gaps in it where I knew the stuff I’d already written could go after the contest. Maybe that’s bending the rules a little bit, but so be it. It still worked for me.
My inability to participate in the contest this year is not a case of my being lazy and claiming I’m “too busy.” I’ve already made a choice that completely, totally excludes writing during the month of November as a possibility this year, and I don’t regret it. Contrary to how it may look on here, I do believe that some things in life are more important than writing, and starting very soon it will be time for me to let one of those things take the front seat for a while. There will be other NaNoWriMos for me to win, but not this year.
But for those of you who do have the opportunity to take the challenge this year, I’ll just share a few fun facts from my own experience with NaNo:
1. My favorite NaNoWriMo pep talk of all time was by Lemony Snicket of the Series of Unfortunate Events, who explained in very simple terms why we novelists must all stop writing at once, and thereby help me to realize exactly what it is that gives us all our “delusion” that writing is important in the first place. And since his pep talk is not from this year, everybody, NaNoWriMo registered or not, can read it here.
2. One of the questions that I saw on the NaNoWriMo site asked for the “weirdest” place we’ve ever written for the challenge. I don’t think I answered it there myself, but I will here. It would definitely have to be when I was backstage during the filming of the Chinese reality show, Jiangsu’s got foreign talent, while waiting for my group’s turn to perform. If you want to see the final result of that adventure, here’s a link to a video of it. Be warned though, the sound quality is poor, there’s a gap in the middle, nobody is speaking English, and yes, the singers in white did not coordinate their routine with the dancers in red at all, so it all looks just a little bit weird. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which of the nervous looking people in the white costumes was me.
3. I got to start and finish NaNoWriMo half a day before the other participants, thanks to my being in in China.
4. I actually “gave up” on the contest more than once throughout the course of the month, but in the end I did come back to it and pull through.
5. I learned the Chinese word for time travel just so I could discuss my story with my Chinese writing teacher. It’s shi-kong lu-xing (时空旅行 in Chinese simplified characters). Shi-kong means “time” within the context of relativity. Lu-xing means journey. It was hard, jumping between TV prep, school assignments, and my novel, but somehow I made it through that month alive.
6. Finally, I would never have done NaNoWriMo if one of my roommates at the time (who was also a writer) hadn’t encouraged me to try in the first place, which is why I’m passing on this encouragement now. Try NaNoWriMo! It will make you happy. It will make your frustrated. It will make you crazy. But you can do it! Even if you’re in China trying to learn one of the world’s hardest languages, or whatever it is that’s keeping you super busy at the moment, really, it is possible. I know, because I did it.