November can be a melancholy month, what with the horrendous weather that shows exactly how bad the winter could be and Christmas just over a month away, but for over 200,000 people worldwide, November means a lot more. November is the month when NaNoWriMo comes around.
For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, in which a participant attempts to pen a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. Yes, I am aware that it sounds insane – some would probably argue that it is. As the site says in the ‘about’ section, writing that amount of words in a month is hard if you are going to carry on going back over what you have written, spell checking or editing things. This wastes time, so in the words of Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, November is all about quantity, not quality, and this sentiment has been continued even after his departure earlier this year.
While some would say that this is a ridiculous thing to say, that it would encourage people all over the world that writing more is better than writing well, it teaches you how to manage your time better; indeed, the statistical break-down of how much you should write says that a word count of 1,667 per day should get you that elusive 50k by the end of the month. However, the path towards victory and that purple winners bar is fraught with peril; phrases such as ‘plot bunnies’, ‘guilt monkeys’ and ‘inner editor’ are pretty much synonymous to the tools of an author: the idea and planning, the motivation to write and the little perfectionist inside of you that wants every little sentence that you create to be devoid of error and those horrible typos that everyone dreads.
In fact, in a letter to parents of young participants, the Office of Letters and Light (the parent non-profit of NaNoWriMo and its other projects) boasts that learning to hammer out those paragraphs during the month can lead to children having a better grasp of writing techniques, such as how to write a specified amount within a strict time period, time management while writing, and how to stick to short-term and long-term goals.
As a former NaNoWriMo participant myself, I can safely say the two times that I have done NaNoWriMo, as well as the three times I have participated in Camp NaNoWriMo (a spin-off of NaNo, but during the summer months), learning how to write so much in such a short space of time without checking over what I have written, as well as making sure that I stick to that 1,667 a day, has helped with my writing in English a lot. Since I participated in my first challenge in November 2010, I found that in my English Language controlled assessments I could just sit down with my idea and get started straight away (sometimes managing to grind out up to 7 pages) whereas most of my classmates were still sat at their desks, pages as blank as their faces as they tried to figure out how best to word their response to our given topic.
Since losing with a measly 27,429 words in 2010, I was even more determined to win the next year, and spent the summer preparing in Camp NaNoWriMo. When November came around, I was prepared; plot in one hand, coffee in another, I sat down on the evening of November 1st and typed as if my life depended on it. When I checked in on the DORG thread (Day One Ridiculous Goals; they come up with all sorts, such as 50,000 words in two days, or hitting one million words by the end of the month) and saw that dozens of people had already bypassed milestones such as 10,000, 20,000 and 25,000 words, I could remember feeling something akin to being flattened by a bus. After a quick conversation with a friend who was also participating, I realised that everybody writes at their own pace, and if they could get such a high amount written in a few hours, then good for them. Just because getting 50k is considered winning NaNoWriMo, it’s not like there are placings within the participants – everybody who reaches the goal gets a purple winners bar on their profile, a printable certificate, a free paperback version of their book and a year of bragging rights.
And the most surprising thing? Those who sprinted ahead of the rest of us weren’t smug; they didn’t lord their almighty writing superpower over the rest of us. They stayed behind on the front line to give out encouragements, prodding us in the right direction, calming us down if we were too stressed or otherwise giving us a good butt-kicking if we were procrastinating too much (yes, there is a thread titled ‘get your butt-kicking here!’ that pops up every year. They basically just shout at you until you write again). It was refreshing to see so many people who were doing the same thing, working towards the same goal, and not just because writing is sneered at today, but because everyone is always so nice, so encouraging, always finding the time to urge you forward with your pesky novel, even if they’re running out of time themselves.
This year, more people than ever have signed up to take part, which is highly exciting to us NaNoWriMo veterans; to see so many people, not just children and teenagers, but adults with families, lives and jobs come to write with us is eye-opening. It allows us to realise that writing isn’t a dying talent, that there will always be people there who are willing to push ahead and bang out that extra chapter, that one more book in a series just so that others can benefit from it. It is rather a nice feeling to sit at your laptop, watching people of all ages and all nationalities come together as one big family, putting prejudices behind them and focusing instead on one common goal. Sometimes, after braving the throngs of giggling teenage girls and the sometimes unintentional, sometimes very much meant hurtful comments, sitting down at my computer to chat to my new friends and write a chapter or two can be the best part of my day, and I daresay the same can be said for many others in this world.