Friday, November 14, 2008

Nano Who?

I have an ancestor, a famous Irish nun, who was named Nano Nagle. Consequently whenever I see something about NaNoWriMo I do a double-take.

This annual writing challenge is celebrating its tenth year in 2008. My first novel came out before it started happening (oops—maybe I shouldn't admit that), so it sort of passed me by. I note that none of my fellow mad geniuses is talking about participating, and perhaps that's because they were all solidly in the professional writing routine before NaNo began. I believe they're all more experienced than me.

That's not to say that NaNo isn't worth doing. Lots, LOTS of people do it every year, and I assume most of them find it valuable.

So who does NaNo? Writers who are learning their craft, or who want to learn to write fast, or who have to write around day jobs or family and want a month of intense work, or who love the energy of attacking a goal along with hundreds (thousands!) of other writers. And, in many cases, people who've always dreamed of writing a novel, and have decided to give it a try.

Cruising the NaNo website, I found some fun stats:

- First year (1999): 21 participants, 6 "winners" (verified 50,000 words written)
- Last year (2007): 101,510 participants, 15,333 winners

Twenty-five NaNo novels have been published, and one became a NYT #1 best-seller. Not bad for a fun little challenge.

From the figures above, it looks like last year about 15% of those who set out to write 50k words in a month achieved that goal. But the other 85% are not losers. They've all written something, probably a lot. They've all made an effort to focus on writing for a month, and that's an accomplishment. They've all learned something about themselves and their abilities, and they've all had the courage to tackle what to most of them is probably a daunting goal.

I applaud the NaNo folks. I've participated in goal-oriented group writing challenges myself—with good results. It strengthened my writing and my confidence. In one type of challenge, the reward for meeting the goal was a physical trophy, a beautiful glass float (paid for in part by me, and in part by a generous mentor who sponsored the challenge). I've got a row of those beauties, and though I earned them a while ago, they still inspire me.

Why am I not doing NaNo? Well, I sort of do it all the time. I learned the lessons in other classrooms, but they're basically the same lessons.

Rule #1 is write. I have a daily minimum wordcount that I write no matter what. (This technique works for me, but not necessarily for everyone—there are sprinters out there, too.) I try not to go back and fiddle with the old stuff too much, but instead focus on writing new material until the manuscript is done. I generally have a deadline, either contractual or self-imposed, for finishing a novel.

A quote that came out of a workshop I attended, and that one of my classmates made into a sign, is "Don't think, just write." Appropriate for this kind of attack writing.

What NaNo is doing, in a way, is simulating the demands that are often made on a professional novelist. Finish this much work by this date, period. Succeed, and you get rewards, the best of which is a sense of accomplishment and knowing that you can, indeed, write 50,000 words in a month.

There's a well-known truism that anyone can write a novel. In fact, while everyone has enough command of language to enable them, theoretically, to write a novel (sigh, OK—not everyone, but a lot of people—heaven help our education system), not everyone has the determination to actually do it. Inspiration is fine and wonderful, but it's willpower that gets you to the bottom of that last page where you get to type "THE END."

So, let's see. It's about half-time for the NaNo folks. What are you all doing surfing blogs? Go write!

Pati Nagle


goooooood girl said...

your blog is good good good......

Dave Freer said...

It really is a good excercise in writing discipline. I try to write enough for it anyway... but the books are contracted longer ;-)

Pati Nagle said...

Dave - I believe it isn't intended to be a completed novel. The founders decided that 50,000 words of a novel was a reasonable goal for one month.