Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo... Can I do it?

Almost a month ago now, a friend asked me if I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. My response:

"Honestly, I don't know. Every time I think about NaNoWriMo, I always ask the same question: Where in my day will I find the time? In order for me to do it, something will have to give."

My writing comes in spurts. There are times when the heart races and the muse flows like a raging river. Then there are days when I have to touch a finger to the neck to see it’s time to offer up a eulogy and throw on the dirt. There are moments when the stories (usually micro fiction) are ready after only a day. As the saying goes, those are few and far between. Mostly, my stories are like children. They take months building muscles in order to stand on their own.

Suffice it to say, the thought of committing to an average of fifty thousand words in thirty days (or an average of 1,666.7 words, which equals approximately 6-1/2 pages per day) not only scares me, it freaks me out—especially when I consider that I have a job to do, a family to spend time with, household chores to maintain, as well as other obligations that take up more time in my week. Not only that, but whoever put this whole NaNoWriMo thing together could have picked a better month. Hello? Did someone forget that minor holiday called Thanksgiving? If you carve out a couple more days from the program, then the Per Diem quota increases. For an accountant like me, that's not hard to figure.

Again: In order for me to do this, something else will have to give.

But what if I make the sacrifice and pour on the water and the fire never comes? The way the muse has treated me lately—like I were some third-rate lover, who’s only value is to pacify the lonely hours during the week when all the other lovers can’t be reached—I worry that I’ll get a week into this, and then realize I have been abandoned with nothing else to guide me. No divining rod telling me where to dig. No compass pointing me in the right direction. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

So, for me it’s more than just a sacrifice during NaNoWriMo. It’s also a current sacrifice. I have to spend time now, thinking and planning and making notes. I can't leave it to fate, waking up each morning during November, trusting that I'll sit at the computer and the words will magically flow. That means there is less time right now for reading. It's also time to fold up my short-story polishing rag and tuck it away in drawer somewhere. It means going to bed earlier and waking up when the stars are still shining bright in the sky. And on and on…


The only reason I’m still considering NaNoWriMo is that I’m tired of feeling like the black-sheep, drop-out kid whose only accomplishment in life amounts to asking: “Paper or plastic?” Over the last couple of years, I have made a few attempts at a novel, only to see them flop in the dirt like a dying fish. And that makes me angry. I should be able to finish a novel. I have to finish a novel. There has to be more.

Will I be able to write the novel in thirty days? That is a big question, for which I don’t yet have an answer. I know I want to. I know I’m starting to make the sacrifices right now in order to see if I can. Only time, planning, and effort will determine the outcome. If I don't, or if for time and family I can't, at least I’ll have a nice framework to build my novel upon. That may be just a consolation prize, but it will certainly be more than the unfulfilled dream I currently hold in my hand.


  1. You pose questions that I think are valid for most of us. It's very hard to dig up those extra hours - something else falls by the wayside, something important.

    On the other hand, even if you only end up with that nice outline for a novel, it will be time well spent on a dream that you wish to pursue.

  2. "If I don't, or if for time and family I can't, at least I’ll have a nice framework to build my novel upon."

    Bingo! I have done NaNo twice now. I've "won" twice now, in that I reached that magical number of 50,000 words. The first win resulted in a complete novel (barely 50K) that when polished will be a pretty good novel. The second one resulted in a mostly completed novel, longer than the first one, but still needing a few closing chapters. Once I polish it off and do the editing it will be an even better novel than the first one. Both were well worth the effort.

    If you decide to do NaNo I'll be right there with you, cheering you on.

    As to month of November - it has to be the second worst month they could have picked. What were they thinking?

  3. Pah. You took 700 words to say you weren't sure you'd be able to come up with 1700 words a day. I think you'll be fine...

  4. I tried it once and failed miserably. I'm still "working" on the novel I started then, but it's very different than the story I began with.

    NaNo is a great motivator for some people, but it is too stressful for me. I like the freedom of writing whatever I want, at my own pace.


  5. Everyone: Thanks for the encouragement.

    Jon: And if I do this, I'll be in touch with you quite often to see how you're doing.

    Anton: You make a valid point. I just hope I can increase the word count and maintain it for thirty days.

    Laura and Carol: That's the way I feel about it, too. Even if all I have is the framework, it'll be worth it.

  6. Think about this…a novel is a series of chapters, which can be viewed as a short story of sorts, right? Yes. You could sorta make a list of “flash topics” and characters that can weave the short stories for you. I understood the concept is to write with a deadline in the hopes of making it a sellable novel. So you see you have only to write a bunch of short stories that weave into to one book. No problem.
    I myself do not write novels and therefore will not be joining in the foray. See that is the luxury of being a poet. My poems can be put together in a book called the “Collective works of”

  7. Hmmm... something will have to give.

    That is EXACTLY what NaNo is about. 30 days of making writing a priority. That is < 1/10th of a year to ditch the telly, wake up early, take an hour every Saturday to write, give up the time-busters.

    What can give? Lots: 1/ a few days of work - take vacation; 2/ can your family grant your 2-4 hours on the weekend - for 4 weeks?; 3/ how about expectations? think QUANTITY, not quality. And 50k words makes not a novel but a novella, so think a PART of a novel - not the whole thing.

    I find NaNo extremely freeing. It is a month of writing without expectation, without the editor peering over my shoulder. Last year's NaNo yielded me $52k words, most of which will end up on the cutting floor. I participated last year in what was likely the second worst November of my life: my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I got stuck with two new courses when a faculty member retired, the whole tenure and promotion stuff sucked the life and the ability to say 'no' out of me, and I took over as director of a graduate program, and a bunch of other stuff. NaNo saved my sanity last year.

    I'm doing it again. This November will likely be the worst in my life, because it's the last November my dad will experience, and likely my mother, too.

    If I can do it, so can you. What's going to give? Surely you can find one hour on average a day to spew your imagination. Give yourself this gift -- to just write.

    Peace, Linda

  8. Paige and Linda: Thank you for the sound advice and encouragement. I appreciate both of you.

  9. Stephen, YOU CAN DO IT! And you can always kvetch to me during the tough spots :)