Why So Serious, NaNoWriMo?

It’s that time of year again. One week from today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month, that one month of the year when hundreds of writers commit to contributing at least 50,000 words towards their novel by November 30.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo while in the MFA program, around 2001 or 2002, but at the time dedicating a month during peak midterm grading and finals preparation to a novel just didn’t seem feasible. I joined the site in 2005 with grand aspirations of participating, but it wasn’t until 2009 and being faced with the possibility of being shown up by a class of eighth graders.

Here’s the story: A friend of mine is a middle school English teacher. Every year she’s incorporated the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s program into her curriculum and because of the way her school is set up, at the time she brought this up, she’d had one class that had completed three novels over the years that she taught them. This was the group of eighth graders. And at the time, I was futzing with my short stories, had an MFA degree, but had never even written one book. Nothing motivates me quite like pride and envy and off I was on my first NaNoWriMo attempt. I won (take that eighth graders) and had so much fun doing it, I vowed to do it as often as possible. 2010 will be year three for me.

I get mixed reactions when I tell people that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I’d say most people are supportive. They think it’s cool or fun or they just see the crazed look in my eye when I talk about it and humor me. But there’s always a nagging minority that doesn’t see the point and isn’t afraid to say it. “Why would you want to do that,” they ask, but what I think they’re really saying is “why aren’t you taking this writing thing seriously?” And I’ve heard that a lot, from writers and nonwriters alike. And I can kind of see their point. It’s a game, a lark. It’s got a cutesy acronym and in one month you’re done. Moreover, it encourages the writer to write with abandon and to put quantity over quality.

Why would anyone take it seriously?

I’d argue that the naysayers are probably underestimating the number of people who do take it seriously. I’m sure there are a good portion of NaNo’ers that have no thought of being published and just want to write a novel in a month, but so what? Are they really hurting the craft of writing by participating? Sure, there are those that write “The End” on November 30 and ship the entire manuscript off to an agent or editor on December 1st, but that doesn’t hurt the rest of us any more than the usual slush pile does. At least, I don’t think so. I don’t know… what do you guys think?

Myself, I take NaNoWriMo very seriously. While for 11 months of the year I’m good about cranking out my morning pages and  working on a revisions or a draft, I am never as disciplined and eager to write as I am come November 1st. I The first NaNoWriMo got me writing a story I’d been kicking around in my head for five years. It taught me that despite years of whining that I can only write short stories, I am, in fact able to write a novel. It got me sitting at my desk daily, facing the page and feeling guilty as hell on days when I don’t.

And it all happened because I didn’t want to be shown up by an eighth grader.

** If you’re interested in being a NaNoWriMo writing buddy, I’m registered on the official site as Chicklit. Come find me!

4 thoughts on “Why So Serious, NaNoWriMo?

  1. Are you doing any of the local parties/write-ins/etc for NaNo? The Austin bunch seems pretty lively, to judge by the forums! (Of course, everything in Austin seems lively…)

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    • I’m doing a couple of write-ins towards the first part of the month. I’ll send you a PM on the NaNoWriMo site about which ones.

      This will actually be my first year participating beyond the forums (and even there, I’m more of a lurker than a poster), but I’m dragging a friend into it with me so we’re going to give it a try.

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  2. I’ve never been brave enough to do Nano until now. I won’t stop and do it this year as I’m working really hard to get my present novel finished but this is the first year (since I started taking my writing seriously) that I’ve thought, ‘yeah, I’d like to do that.’ In the past I was too scared of the empty page. I see that as progress.

    Very good luck to you.

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  3. I’m like you — I don’t ever get as much done during the year as I do during NaNo… I really wish I could harness that energy somehow, but I don’t know what it is… NaNo is like some strange, mystical event that can’t be explained.

    I also don’t get the “too serious” people. I mean, it’s a fun event that encourages literacy — why get one’s hackles up over that? It’s very strange.

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