In a little more than a week, the National Novel Writing Month will fire up again, and thousands of lunatics all over the world will hunch over keyboards or notepads all month long, furiously scribbling away in hopes of coughing up a novel in 30 days. As the many postings on the official site will tell you, that works out to about 1,667 words a day, give or take, which runs to about five or six pages daily. That’s quite a bit of text crunching.
Now, some people will argue that something like NaNoWriMo substitutes the spewing of text for the art of writing. After all, art isn’t made on deadline, right? That’s what I thought, too, right up until I jumped in last year and became one of those lunatics. One month and 51,000+ words later, I had a novel, a sense of accomplishment and a new perspective on NaNoWriMo. Is it for everyone? Nope; nothing is. But, after ruminating on the topic for a while, I’ve concluded that I would recommend it for the majority of writers I’ve met or talked to, because there are benefits to be had that outweigh the disadvantages.
Discipline is a big one, maybe the biggest one. It’s tough to sit down and write without an external push, so for a short time, NaNoWriMo provides it for you, at least more of one. True, there’s nobody sitting on your shoulder prodding you, but there’s a definitive deadline to keep in mind, and that helps. For many creative writers, that’s new. I don’t know many creative writers with experience writing or editing for a regular publication, and having a deadline can be soul-crushing and wonderfully focusing at the same time. I felt that way as a newspaper copy editor, and felt it even more so writing articles for a monthly magazine. Knowing you’re up against the clock can lead to trouble, but it forces you to be creative.
More importantly, if you’re on deadline long enough and regularly enough, you develop habits to let you work better under the gun. You reorganize your tasks. You tackle what you can do easily first, giving you more time on the back end for the hard stuff. You plan beforehand, as much as you can, to marshal your resources effectively. You learn to focus on what’s important and to ignore what’s trivial, or what can be done later. And, you learn—you’re forced to learn—your shortcomings and blind spots, and you go over your work once it’s done. Even if it’s just a once-over, you review your work, because time is not on your side, and odds are good you missed something. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, but you look anyway.
How does NaNoWriMo help you with this? You’re not revising at this point, you may argue. It’s just wordslinging, right? Nope. You’re writing here, building worlds and characters, and even if it’s rough, this is the creative work. The art comes later when you revise and refine, but for now it’s creation, and you’re under the gun. 1,667 words a day, every day, and that’s if you don’t take Sundays and holidays off. Any time off, any day lost to hanging out with the cats or a Lost marathon, that’s five pages per day you’ll have to make up somewhere, or you won’t make it. No harm if you don’t, but if you’re not going to push yourself, why bother?
Those are the work ethic reasons, the brussel sprouts on the plate. Here’s a different reason to do NaNoWriMo: it’s fun. It really is. Ever felt a runner’s high? You know, when the endorphins are flowing and all the training boils down to the ineffable moment and, there on the field or on the track, you’re in the zone? That will happen. You’ll be madly clacking away at the keyboard or filling reams of paper with your handwriting, and you’ll get into the zone. The physics of writing will fade into the metaphysics of creation, and you will be one with the story. You’ll lose time here. It happened to me several times, most often when I’d get together at the coffeeshop with other lunatics and we’d all sit around a table, huddled over our laptops as winter clawed in through the south-facing window, not saying a word. Toward the end, I was knocking out three to five thousand words at a stretch, and it flowed. Everything clicked and moved together, and the story came to life. What a rush.
There are no guarantees, of course. I can’t promise your experience will be like mine, if you choose to do it. If I were a betting man, though, that’s how my money would roll. More of you would come away with a positive view of the whole NaNoWriMo gig than not, methinks, and there’s much to be gained. If you’re ready to rumble, you’ve still got a week to gear up. If not, well, November’s a pretty punctual month; it’ll be back around soon enough.