Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Novel Season: November

Well friends, it’s about that time of year. Fall is tumbling down over the countryside like a child at play, cool breezes are maturing into wizened, cold winds, and frost can be seen upon the lawns. Trees are glowing like embers, trading emeralds for crimson and fireglow. Holiday items appear in stores, pies are fresh out of the oven, and the writing bug is festering in many veins across the States, Canada, and lands beyond.

This disease has no known cure, and only one rare treatment an individual has to be half-mad to give or receive has been found. But the bug only lasts a short while, then it calms down. Still, it never leaves completely. No, it lies dormant until next fall. Until the next novel season. November.

It is a bug, don’t you realize? It’s something of a plague, but somehow it’s a good one. And it strikes us all to our very core until we start to shiver and laugh and light bulbs flicker on above our heads. Most of these light bulbs tend to shatter about the second week into that much-dreaded, much-yearned-after month of November. Many of them are then replaced. And they shatter again. They blow out, sometimes they flicker out. Sometimes they are replaced a third time. A fourth. Even a fifth. But somehow, somewhere, someone will be lying in their bed on the first morning of December, just waking up to icy toes and cold face and perhaps the buzzing of an alarm clock. And then they will remember. They will look back on thirty days of excitement, anticipation, worriment, caffeine highs, tears, desperation, resignation, the bitter foretaste of defeat, and then the sweet savor of victory. They made it out. They survived. And they won.

NaNoWriMo.

It has caused the people around me much confusion in the past when I say that word as explanation for why I’m so busy, so exhausted, so insane. I’ve explained it so many times that I simply sigh the words out, “It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s in November and it’s when you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days and it’s crazy-insane and I love it and that’s that.” Then come the real questions. Are you crazy? Why would you ever want to do that? What is the prize? Are other people this crazy too, or did you make it all up? Have you done it before? What is the prize again? You do it for nothing? Why?

Fellow 'Wrimos' can relate I’m certain.

Now, in answer to those questions, from those of you who may not have heard of NaNoWriMo, or want to know more about it, or maybe want to try yourself, allow me to explain.

First: Yes, we are crazy. I discovered long ago that a so-called normal life isn’t worth the bother, but a crazy one is. (Aside: I also found out that the majority of people claim to be crazy, so, if that is true, then we are actually normal and those people who claim to be normal are actually the crazy ones. Beware.) Still, one would have to own a google’s worth of insanity to actually make such an attempt as the one mentioned four paragraphs previous. Or else, they are extremely bored, or perhaps addicted to deadlines. So: the fact that Wrimos are really quite mad is an established fact.

Second: The why and the desire to do what we do. Because it’s fun. And crazy. And we are writers. The greatest reason I have chosen to participate in NaNoWriMo is for the feeling of near-ecstasy which a writer experiences when completing a story. We live for the words ‘the end’ and when we reach them we smile at anything and everything for days on end and don’t think of anything much at all. Eventually, however, our feet are bound to touchdown on the Earth once more. But that bliss and ear-to-ear grinning sensation a writer gets when the story is written to its completion for the first time is one of the best feelings I have ever known. The end game of NaNoWriMo is that you’ve finished a novel. It probably will never be a best seller, you might never even let it see the light of day once December arrives, but you did it. Now you have something you can, if you so choose, work with. You have a place to start. So: NaNoWriMo is the first stone of your story’s foundation.

Third: There is no prize. There are, instead, ‘goodies’. There’s a certificate, some web badges; T-shirts and coffee mugs and book bags are available to buy, and you get a little icon beside your name that says Winner. But of an actual prize, there is nothing. There are bragging rights. And that little thing of a novel which you’ve sweated and cried and bled for. We don’t get paid. The novels we pound out are not immediately published—and thank goodness for that! It’s merely the thought of ‘I did it’ that draws us in and keeps us coming year after year. And really, that’s no mere thing after all, is it? So: No prize; just satisfaction.

Fourth: It’s called National for a reason. It’s National. To be quite precise, it is now somewhat international and that is a fact which brings much pride. We are not alone in this crazy ambition to reach the deadline. We are part of a large community of crazy writers and people who aren’t really writers but they join in anyway. Thanks to how large NaNoWriMo has become we can participate in things like Word Wars (writing with a group for a set period of time to see who can eke out the most words) and many other—although lesser-known—socially-inclined games to stimulate our writing. So: Many, many other people do it.

Fifth and Lastly: Yes, I have done this before. On a more personal level from the other questions I often answer, I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times in the past. This shall be my fourth. I hope, also, that is shall by my fourth win. My first NaNoWriMo was also my first ever completed novel, followed shortly by the erroneous ‘Shadowed Moon’ expedition which was the first fantasy novel I had ever begun—and the earliest novel attempt I will admit to.

 My first NaNoWriMo was written longhand in a now much battered blue folder of sheaves and sheaves of notebook paper. I can’t even read the words. Some exclaim over how amazing it was that I managed to pull the whole thing off writing longhand. Yet I know others have done the same before me and one must take into account that this was at a time when I did not have much experience writing on a computer, nor did I have one easily on hand. (Aside: I plan to do NaNo in longhand again at some point in the future, just to see if I could repeat the success I had found there before.) So: Third time may be the charm, but let’s hope the fourth is just as magical.

The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that no one is upset if and when you lose. Except for, perhaps, yourself. Although I myself have miraculously managed to slog through to the finish each year, there is bound to come a time when I don’t make that deadline and don’t win and walk about feeling dejected for a few days. That feeling fades with the progression of regular life, and besides, there’s always next year.

So why not give it a try?

(For more information on NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to check out the website at nanowrimo.org, or to find and peruse the book written by NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, “No Plot? No Problem!”)

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