(Note from Kate Flora: This is a revision of a post that has run before, with tweaks and links, etc.) But with NaNoWriMo coming fast upon us, we wanted to run it again in case you missed it and want to start gearing up for this November)
OBSESSION: Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. (American Heritage Dictionary)
One of the lovely dark sides of the writing life is obsession. This November, many writers will nurture (or yield to) this obsession. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) a period during which writers all over the world sign up and commit to trying to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. Some get together in weekly support groups, or go to weekly “write-ins.” Some are supported throughout the month by a series of rallying e-mails from their local organizers. Some toil quietly in the stillness of their homes or the commotion of their local coffee shops.The project began in 2000 with 140 participants, 26 of whom met the goal.
325,142 participants, including 81,311 students and educators in the Young Writers Program, started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.
803 volunteer Municipal Liaisons guided 615 regions on six continents.
849 libraries, bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.
55,774 Campers tackled a writing project—novel or not—at Camp NaNoWriMo.
Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. See a full list of our published authors. http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos
The thing has gotten big enough that it has prompted a lot of discussion, including a column by Salon’s Laura Miller titled: Better yet, DON’T write that novel, http://www.salon.com/2010/11/02/nanowrimo/ in which she opined that the world doesn’t really need more writers, especially writers who are writing so intensely they’re “writing a lot of crap” and ignoring the need for revision. Instead it should celebrate readers. That, in turn, prompted Carolyn Kellogg, at the LA Times, to counter with: 12 Reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/11/12-reasons-to-ignore-the-naysayers-do-nanowrimo.html
Maybe others will think I should be wearing a tin foil hat, but I’m with Carolyn Kellogg. However a writer chooses to approach NaNoWriMo, there’s an incredible energy in the air that can be captured and channeled. It’s exciting to be part of a “movement” where more than 200,000 people are setting aside the complex demands of their lives and giving themselves over to a long held-dream, or a voice that won’t take “no” for answer. And the result, for some of us, is obsession, in the best possible sense of the word. Yes, a compulsive preoccupation. Yes, quite possibly accompanied by feelings of anxiety–though often those are the result of trying to figure out how to put the rest of life on hold or how not to burn the chicken when you haven’t met your daily word goal. And yes, perhaps almost impossible to do–but ultimately, the task is about jump starting, it’s about taking a turn down the to road of creativity. It’s about getting so deeply into story that those editing voices in our heads, the result of a lifetime of correction and discipline, are stilled, and the words just flow. For once, it’s possible to believe that it can all be edited and revised later, because there’s no time to stop. Fingers are flying, words are flying, there’s only time to get it down on the page.
I did NaNoWriMo five years ago and it was amazing. True confessions: First, I only got to about 42,000 words; Second, I broke the rules and used the time to try and finish a book I’d started and then hit the pause button on nearly a decade earlier. But since this is only about a writer’s personal relationship with the page, that’s okay. I’m the writer. You’re the writer. We’re using this as a device. This is NOT our homework, it is our life’s work, our dream work, our step-out-on-the-tightrope-and-see-what-happens work. Our writing, and the decisions about how to approach it, always, first and foremost, belongs to us.
So what did I learn from my NaNoWriMo adventure? First, that it should probably take place in February. November is an impossible month. I’m helping to run a huge weekend-long mystery writing conference, The New England Crime Bake. I’m teaching other mystery writers. I have a book to finish before I can start NaNoWriMo. But I’m not going to let any of that stand in my way.
Why? Because what I rediscovered when I did it before, something I knew from a long-ago stint to see how fast I could write a book (485 pages in 3 months), is that the upside of obsession is something akin to ecstasy. There’s something almost breathtaking about getting so deeply immersed in story and character that they begin to write themselves. There is a kind of magic in being in what some writers call “flow,” where the story just comes pouring out. Where characters are so freed to be themselves that they just start talking and we writers almost break our fingers as we try to write it down. Being that deeply in story is a high like no other that I’ve ever experienced (and since I may still run for political office, I’ll leave it right there). And quite honestly, as I sit here at my desk and look at my to-do list and my calendar, the passionate writer in me can hardly wait to shove everything else aside and write: Chapter One.
50,000 words. 1,666 words a day. I hope you’ll be joining me.
For some nitty gritty details and advice, check out guest blogger Steve Liskow’s post in our archives:
NaNoWriMo 101 or Some Planning Tips for Writing in November
And for other thoughts, blogs, ideas, and suggestions about tackling NaNoWriMo, here are some links:
Chuck Wendig on the Pros and Cons: http://bit.ly/1H8BeRD
Annie J. Kelley on getting some ideas: http://bcene.ws/1RyaYWl
Robin Rivera: A Writer’s Ode to her Inner Critic: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/a-writers-ode-to-her-inner-critic/ (We don’t know if his name is Carlisle)
Finally, a so painfully close to the truth, is this blog post from Chicks on the Case:
How Not to win NaNoWriMo