Idol Chatter

Each year since 1999, beginning November 1st and ending November 30th, writers all over the United States race to type-type-type away at their laptops, desktops, and (for the old-fashioned) typewriters, to get that novel that’s been rattling around in their heads onto the page in a period of–wait for it–30 days! The goal is this: write 50,000 words (that’s only about 1667 words a day) or approximately 175 manuscript pages (5.8 per day) in a single month–and to do so in the company of tens of thousands of other aspiring novelists (last year there was about 59,000 participants). Nicknamed “NaNoWriMo” or “National Novel Writing Month,” the project self-describes as a kind of spit-it-out, no-holds-barred way of making that novel you’ve always wanted to write a reality:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

But the coolest part of NaNoWriMo is not simply the knock-down-drag-out-of-your-body novel writing method, but the rather astounding community created by the experience–and the ritual of it all. People often regard writing as solitary. Not so during NaNoWriMo–one of its essential ingredients is the fact that you are not alone. Year One, 1999, started off with only 21 writers, and this year they expect participation to top the 75,000 mark. November 1st sees at least one statewide gathering in every state for everyone to come together and see who’s in this with them, share encouragement, ideas, or just have a coffee together. There is at least one, if not more, weekly “Write-In” events where participants gather to simply be in the company of each other while they write, or share the agonies and the ecstasies of it all. There are online forums organized by genre (Romance, Fantasy, Christian Fiction, and even Christian Fantasy Fiction), writing topic (“fact-checkers” and “plot doctors” groups), and the ever-popular “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul” group for people struggling with writer’s block.

Jamie Gorton is a three-time participant (who already has two novels in his drawer), whose word count had already topped 3,500 by early morning on day two. “I’m trying hard not to liken this to Burning Man,” Gorton told Idol Chatter on a writing break in Vermont. “Because I like writing fantasy fiction, it’s sometimes hard to find a writing community. It’s almost a taboo genre to write in. But when November comes around and you go on the website’s forums and see that the fantasy genre forum is the most active out of all the genres. After a few years you start to recognize other people–you know what aspects of the genre they write in. Most importantly, you know that they are going through the same chaos as you are. It’s all very predictable. The energy of the first week, the creative bust of the second week, and the sheer fatigue of the third and fourth weeks. My fellow participants understand it much better than my non-participating friends would understand it.”

So doing NaNoWriMo is everything but lonely–November could become the most important month on the liturgical calendar for all those “spiritual but not religious” folks out there who also happen to like to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and worship at the altar of the Writing Goddess. And it all ends with a bang, too, with a TGIO gathering on November 30th: Thank Goodness It’s Over!

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