nanowrimo – love it or hate it?

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Hello all,

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month! – also abbreviated to “NaNoWriMo.” This is a month-long effort started several years ago (first year:, 1999) by writer Chris Baty in the San Francisco area, with 21 participants. Nineteen years later, in 2018, it has become a worldwide project, with over two thousand writers participating, almost 40 million words written during this past month of November., and every day these 2000 writers produced  almost 20,000 words on average.

You can’t help but be inspired by this blurb from the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

For years my writing friends have been urging me to give nanowrimo a try. My co-writing collaborator has done nanowrimo for several years in a row, and she always asks me if I’m going to try it this year. I had considered it, but the goal is to write 50,000 words on a novel, and that means writing 1,667 words per day (or more) in a single story. What I know about my writing is that it needs intervals of “real life” to make it sing. If I try to write a single narrative non-stop, especially in bursts of 1500 words or more per day, I run right up against Writer’s Block. Badly. I’ve found I need to break up my writing stints in a single narrative so that I can really live with the story; I pick up small ideas from my daily life that make their way into the narrative, slowly moving forward. Otherwise – I get stuck. Really stuck..

So, sheepishly, self-consciously, I always said, “No, not this time,” or sometimes, “I’m afraid I can’t work that way,” when my co-writer asked me. But this year my collaborator on our Two Hour Transport reading series was also going to give it a try, and she mentioned that some people (shhh! don’t tell!) DON’T write novels, they write . . . memoir, nonfiction, short stories . . . and there’s even a name for it: The nanowrimo Rebel. I was intrigued. Maybe, I thought, I could just write a couple of 900-word flash fiction pieces every day, practice my short-story writing, and see what this nanowrimo was all about.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

And, that’s what I did! You can see in this photo what some of my stories looked like during drafting. I hand-wrote at times, I computer-typed at other times, I participated in physical write-ins at nearby coffee-shops and other locations, I participated in virtual write-ins organized by our regional liaisons. I started out dreading nanowrimo – “I can’t do this,” – and I ended up LOVING it. So many insights came out of my work this month! In the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing more of my experience, and I hope it will inspire you to Keep Writing. You’ve got stories, poems, memoir, essays, and more inside you just waiting to be released. Go for it!

Here’s a sample of my work; this was written on Day 1:

You are staring out a black postage stamp of a window in your bedroom. They have told you it’s all in your head, this sense of the supernatural that seems to permeate your minutes, your hours, your daily life. They tell you should pay no attention, that you should focus on specific concrete details that will lead you to reality. Reality. But what they have not told you yet is that they want you to pay attention to specific details because that’s how they control you. You are brought down to the world, the Real World when you think about stair steps in your dorm, about the orange chairs in the floor lounge, about the sneering smiles of the boys on this floor, the ones that drink all weekend long and try to deceive the RA about it. You don’t want this. You want to be clear, you want to know what is really happening, not what they want you to think is happening. But your parents sent you to this Ivy League college not to think but to come out with a Degree and to start your Life. They would love it if you went to Law School after, like your father did, or to medical school, like your mother did. Another lawyer or doctor in the family is what your parents want. You tried to tell them you were interested in the art class you took in your freshman year, and that was a big mistake. They let you think they were supportive and then before you knew it you were on Prozac and your parents had you in once-a-week therapy sessions with Dr. Morse. Dr. Morse who asked if you knew what you wanted to do, and you tried to say what you thought about art, but it wasn’t helpful and after that you did not say anything. You went into yourself, and now you’re sitting in front of a dark window and you’re watching for, well, for anything that’s different. Something not concrete. A thing that sails past you into the dark-dark of the night and flaunts its lively sense of irony at the gloating moon.

Thanks for reading!

Take care,

Theresa

12 thoughts on “nanowrimo – love it or hate it?

  1. ‘What I know about my writing is that it needs intervals of “real life” to make it sing’ This is how I feel about my writing too. I need real life, real everyday experiences and real interactions with every day people to get into my writing groove and make my words sings. For that reason like you, I’ve always been on the errr side when it came to nanowrimo. I’ve had people encourage me to give it a go but each time I say no for for me, I truly believe my writing takes time. The idea of a rebel version sounds refreshing – writing not a novel but in shorter bursts and lovely to hear that it was something you found stimulating. It did look like you went hard with writing and there were a lot of layers within that except you shared, layers of a life in the present wanting certainly on the home front and the future.

    With nanowrimo I always felt there was the pressure to show up and to write. With writing, I like to take my time. That said, if there is pressure to write, that encourages you to write and one can argue that writing something is better than writing nothing at all. Sometimes I do force myself to write when I don’t feel like it…simply because I feel I need to test the waters with words to get a feel if I can go somewhere with my writing. Other times I feel it’s better to just not write, stand up to live life and then sit down and write 🙂

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    1. Mabel! Thank you for having the courage to say you were also always hesitant about nanowrimo. Kudos! It’s so encouraging to hear you have the same challenge/feature to your writing. Also, I am completely supportive of the right to take your time to express yourself. It reminds me I’ve been experimenting with asking, “What do I feel good energy about writing on at the moment?” rather than kicking myself into doing some sort of writing I “should” be doing. Love you’re taking your time that way. – and thank you for the kind message of complimenting my excerpt. It touches my heart to hear how it was when you read it. 🙂 And – “Other times I feel it’s better to just not write, stand up to live life and then sit down and write ” – Lovely. Yes!

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      1. I do find it surprising some people are surprised I haven’t participated in nanowrimo. Each of us writers have different ways of writing and connecting with words. Your excerpt was indeed descriptive, descriptive in describing both thoughts and motion. Sometimes it’s these spur of the moments pieces of writing where there is most clarity in our thoughts and we feel our stories the strongest 🙂

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  2. Theresa, that was such a powerful piece of writing right there. I was lost in another world as I started reading and wished there was more. NaNoWriMo does sound like a great exercise in opening up blocked writing pores. A 900-word piece everyday is certainly challenging. Some days I can barely get beyond 200 words in my writing and wondering if any of it counts. Ah, the demons in our heads. xx

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    1. You’re right! I just re-read the piece and, gosh, there is a lot there, and the story seems to be leading somewhere interesting. And, yes, I have those demons myself, it is really a challenge. Especially for a creative person. Easy to get discouraged at times! 🙂 Thanks for your kind message!

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