I do my best work when I have a sense of structure, when I’m allowed to bash something out on a quick turnaround time, and when I can work independently within a community. Thus, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it’s known to its fans and followers) seems like something so well suited to my sensibilities that it’s a wonder I haven’t done it before. November of 2012 will be my inaugural year working on NaNo.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is fairly straightforward. Aspiring novelists must write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Freelance writer Chris Baty founded NaNoWriMo in July of 1999, but later moved it forward to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather” in his hometown of San Francisco. Throughout the years, NaNo has grown from a small event in which Baty participated with a small clutch of friends, to an event that spans the globe and has spawned a number of best-selling books. (If you read Water for Elephants or The Night Circus, congratulations: you have enjoyed the fruits of NaNoWriMo.) A lively community has sprung up among aspiring writers in Boston, replete with overnight write-ins and games of Word Wars on the regional board.
While NaNo has facilitated a convergence of writers and has allowed people to tap into their creativity, it has also been the subject of some criticism. Because many participants are aspiring or non-writers who don’t necessarily know about writing drafts, literary critics and published scribes are all too quick to point out the shortcomings of the event. Like the way it prizes positive feelings of accomplishment over the skill involved with writing a novel, or how it encourages its novelists to maintain low standards so they can make their word count. Erin Morgenstern, writer of The Night Circus, advises aspiring writers against submitting their manuscript to a publisher or agency on 1 December—a disappointing side effect of NaNo.
I understand the concerns surrounding these and other issues, like the commercialization of writing that the event entails. For me, if I didn’t crank out a draft of this novel now, I might keep putting it off. I came up with the idea for my novel in the late spring, when I guest-blogged for One Week One Band. Initially I’d intended for some of those articles to be the final word on that painful period in one’s life known as “prepubescence”, but in working on One Week One Band I started thinking about other stories related to my nascent years as a teen writer. When my friend Brit compared my descriptions of my rock-star crushes and my pained relationship with my mom to Paul Feig’s memoirs, I sensed that I had a potential YA novel in the offing.
For the past few months I’ve been outlining, character-sketching, mood-boarding, mix-taping, and even dressing my characters. The story I’ve created for my motley protagonists and adversaries takes place in a coastal town north of Boston around 1989 and involves an unpopular teenage girl who, through a series of coincidences, becomes a writer for a local newspaper. When she uncovers a scoop about a heretofore anonymous graffiti artist, her knowledge jeopardizes her friendship with a fellow outcast. Along the way, she also learns how to use a darkroom and befriends the lead singer of her favorite local band, the Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. I’m treating my NaNo work as a draft, and will probably spend the month of March (known to NaNo participants as “National Novel Editing Month”) going after it with a red pen.
Sadly, with the goal of writing 1700 words towards my bildungsroman will curtail my other writing responsibilities. I will not be writing for Popshifter within the next 30 days, so if you find my reviews annoying, this is your lucky month. See you on or around 1 December!